Five programs at Southern Oregon University's Hannon Library and 13 programs in the athletic department — including all the sports teams — ranked near the bottom in a self-evaluation process the Ashland school is undergoing.
A group of nine school employees ranked 160 support programs at SOU — including those within departments such as marketing, athletics, admission, housing and the library — into five categories, from the highest 20 percent to the lowest 20 percent. Each category contained 32 programs.
The rankings were released last week.
The goals of the process, said school officials, are to plan for the future and identify areas that need improvement.
Paul Adalian, dean of Hannon Library, said low rankings for five of its programs were unexpected, because the library is critical to the school's functioning and is probably the most visited building on campus.
"We were all a bit disappointed in the rankings," Adalian said.
The rankings are part of a streamlining process at the school, called prioritization, which will bring cuts, outsourcing or mergers, officials said.
Some employees at the school have expressed concern that programs in the lower categories will automatically be cut. But university officials have stressed that is not necessarily the case.
Jim Klein, provost and vice president for academic and student affairs at SOU, said the rankings will cause employees to begin discussing how best to improve their department.
Prioritization is a process in which "we can see where our inefficiencies or opportunities lie," Klein said. "It's not that there won't be any changes, but they will happen over a period of time."
Thirteen athletic programs ranked in the two lowest categories, but Athletic Director Matt Sayre pointed to the department's administration, which ranked in the second-highest tier.
"We're pretty pleased with that," he said, adding that it was "concerning" to have all the athletic teams ranked in the two lowest categories.
He said costs associated with scholarships and team travel were causes for the low rankings. The department must find ways to deal with those costs, he said.
Sayre said he did not think any athletic programs are in danger of being cut.
Hannon Library had two programs in the lowest category and three in the second-lowest.
Adalian said reports that program representatives sent to the group doing the rankings were short — about 2,000 words — and therefore could not thoroughly explain the importance of each program.
"People felt that the process didn't go deep enough to pull everything out that needed to be pulled out," he said.
Programs within the library are interrelated and work together, so ranking them individually was not accurate, he said. The library programs that ranked highest — three were in the second-highest category — were dependent upon those lower-ranking programs for their success, he added.
The Schneider Museum of Art was ranked in the lowest category. Erika Leppmann, the acting museum director, said the rankings were based on activity from 2007 to 2012, a time when there were changes in leadership and staff.
But this year, the museum has received a $36,000 grant from the Ford Family Foundation, has implemented a visiting artist program and a lecture series, and has been recognized by the Oregon Arts Commission. She said that if a ranking were to come in four years, she believes the museum would be in the highest category. She said she does not believe cuts will be made to the museum.
"We've really been moving forward and things are exciting here," Leppmann said.
Jim Beaver, the school's director of interactive marketing and media relations, said he does not believe cuts will come to his department, either, even though marketing and communication had four programs ranked in the lowest category.
If anything, the low rankings will lead to more money being allocated to the department, he said.
"I think cutting marketing would be the last thing you would do," he said. "That would be disastrous."
Sylvia Kelley, vice president for development at SOU, said that the first-tier ranking for the development office won't cause her to relax.
"Fundraising is critical for us now," she said. "I took it as a recommendation that our fundraising is critical for our students to come to school."
The alumni office, which is part of the development office at the school, was ranked in the second-lowest category.
"To me, it's an opportunity to get better," said Mike Beagle, the alumni office director.
Beagle said businesses and the military are scrutinized regularly, and he welcomes the evaluations.
Kelley said she met with a group of employees last week who were excited that the prioritization could lead to change for the better. Yet she said some people are nervous about what will come.
"Whenever change is in the air, it's just a human reaction to be fearful and to be concerned," she said.
Klein said the prioritization will set in place a process the university will use regularly to evaluate itself.
"This is the most comprehensive look I've ever seen an institution look at itself," said Klein, who has worked in higher education for 35 years.
The rankings will be a tool to guide the school's planning for the next five years.
"It's important data that we need to plan," he said.
Vince Tweddell is a freelance reporter living in Talent. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.