IUP Deaf Ed program doesn’t go quietly

A Civic Project story

By Tammy Stonecypher

INDIANA — Amanda L. Musachio, 18, of Massapequa, N.Y., was excited early this year when Indiana University of Pennsylvania accepted her into its deaf-education program.  But within weeks her excitement turned to disillusionment when a March 5 letter from the university’s admissions director told her deaf ed no longer was offered.


She was crushed.

“I visited a lot of schools, but I fell in love with IUP,” Musachio said in a May 2 telephone interview. “I was devastated as I read that letter.”


Fewer than six months before the start of the 2012-2013 academic year, Musachio and other out-of-state applicants are being forced to look elsewhere. The same prospect faces in-state applicants. But for them, the cost of an undergraduate degree in the discipline — the only such program offered in Pennsylvania — would nearly double.


The story of the would-be elimination of IUP’s B.S. Ed. in Deaf Education degree reflects the university’s ongoing struggles over system-wide cuts in budgets, professors and programs. The struggle over deaf ed  has simmered for months and only recently erupted into public view during a contentious debate at a May 1 University Senate meeting in Eberly Auditorium.


That debate concluded with a ringing endorsement of the deaf ed program and unanimous support for its continuation. Administrators still may pull the plug. But finding and fixing responsibility for the popular program’s possible termination is a study in dodging and buck-passing.

ADMINISTRATORS at each of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education’s 14 campuses have “considerable autonomy” in academic program-moratorium and -elimination decisions, Kenn Marshall, spokesman for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, said in an April 10 telephone interview

At IUP, deaf ed’s death sentence may have been issued in a June 9, 2011, Academic Affairs Workforce Plan  developed by Provost Gerald Intemann. It slated several IUP programs for termination, including deaf ed, which was placed “in moratorium with intent to discontinue.”


Becky A. Knickelbein, Ed.D., IUP special education and clinical services associate professor.

Becky A. Knickelbein, Ed.D., then chair of the Department of Special Education and Clinical Services, said IUP’s Office of Academic Affairs originally planned to review academic programs with fewer than 50 students. The deaf ed program, a part of Knickelbein’s department, has 48, she said in a Feb 20 interview in her Davis Hall office.


Faced with a falling axe, all 15 department faculty members voted unanimously to keep the program, in part because it is the only one of its kind in Pennsylvania, according to Knickelbein and the IUP deaf education webpage The College of Education Curriculum Committee also voted to keep the program alive.


However, between spring 2011 and spring 2012, three administrators acted to end the deaf-ed program. Mary Ann Rafoth, then-dean of the College of Education, shut down a search for a new tenure-track faculty member, Knickelbein said. Rafoth’s interim successor, A. Keith Dils, sustained that decision. And Gerald W. Intemann, IUP’s provost and vice president of academic affairs, allowed no searches for deaf-ed faculty, Knickelbein added.


Rafoth, now dean of the School of Education and Social Sciences at Robert Morris University, responded April 27 to an email requesting comment.


“Because I am no longer at IUP, and because I was only present at the beginning of discussions about potential programs that might be discontinued, I do not feel I can comment on factors influencing the final decision to put the program in moratorium, which I just learned about in your e-mail,” Rafoth said.


Intemann did not respond to requests for comment. During a Feb. 23 visit to the provost’s Sutton Hall office, Intemann’s administrative assistant said the provost would not speak in person about the matter.  The assistant responded to an April 27 e-mail addressed to Intemann, requesting a meeting to discuss program decisions.  The assistant said the provost would not have time to meet before the end of the semester.


Gail S. Sechrist, chair of IUP’s university-wide undergraduate curriculum committee, responded to an April 4 email requesting information about the criteria for program elimination.


Although we were asked to review this, we are not actually the ones who have
made the decision to not continue this program," Sechrist said.  


KNICKELBEIN SAID the deaf ed program was targeted because of a confluence of circumstances, including retirement of two full-time faculty members and resignation of a tenure-track faculty member, all in 2011. 


“There was a perfect storm of events — retiring and resigning faculty, and budget cuts,” Knickelbein said. 


Other programs with fewer students, such as philosophy and religious studies, were  considered for moratorium or elimination, Knickelbein said. But they were saved.


The assertion can be confirmed by IUP’s Division of Academic Affairs,which keeps statistics on enrollments in and credit hours attributed to each major. However, administrators delayed and denied repeated requests for the information.


Michelle Fryling, IUP director of media relations, responded to a Feb. 27 request for the statistics with a March 26 email that suggested the information could be obtained from a professor.


A similar request to John N. Kilmarx, associate vice president of academic administration, produced a similar e-mail response on April 6. 


An April 20 Right To Know Law request for verification of enrollment and credit-hour information got a response from IUP’s open records officer on April 24. According to fall 2011 headcounts, 48 students were enrolled in the deaf education program, 33 in religious studies and 31 in the philosophy bachelor of arts program.


An April 27 email to Kilmarx, requesting explanation and verification of data contained in the Right To Know response, was not answered.


Despite administrators' apparent questions about deaf ed's viability, IUP's admissions office in February admitted dozens of new students to the undergraduate program for the 2012-2013 academic year. Michael H. Husenits, director of admissions and author of Musachio’s March 5 letter, verified on April 13 that IUP had received 40 applications to the deaf-ed program by late February, and 24 applicants had been admitted.


But by early March, admissions reversed field and wrote Musachio and other would-be deaf-ed freshmen that the program was "no longer available to new students applying to IUP."


That reversal was a mistake, according to PASSHE spokesman Marshall. Students must be permitted to complete a program once they have been admitted.


"If they were admitted to that specific program, they should have been able to attend and finish," Marshall said in an April 10 telephone interview.   


ON MAY 1, IUP’s University Senate met in Eberly Auditorium for a special session to act on a 76-page agenda containing mostly curricular matters. The agenda’s final item was a unanimous recommendation from the Universitywide Undergraduate Curriculum Committee that the deaf ed program “not be placed in moratorium and that it be given support to hire two full-time tenure-track faculty in order to make the program viable.”


Debate on the recommendation lasted a quarter hour. Knickelbein defended the deaf-ed program. Dils, the interim dean of the College of Education and Educational Technology, argued that it lacked “viability” and defended the decision to terminate it upon graduation of all current students. Other senators joined the debate.


When the recommendation came to a voice vote, the Senate unanimously supported the continuation of the deaf ed program and the hiring of new faculty members to ensure the program’s viability.


Two subsequent meetings scheduled to discuss the Senate vote with Dils were cancelled by his office. In a May 25 email to College of Education and Educational Technology faculty, he announced his resignation as interim dean, effective July 2.


In a May 3 interview in her office, Knickelbein praised the Senate and prospects for the deaf ed program.


“I never dreamed there was that much support, university-wide, among faculty and staff,” Knickelbein said.  “I absolutely feel better about the program today.”


However, Knickelbein said she was resigning as department chair and was returning to classroom teaching and to graduate-programs coordination.She added that Intemann, the provost, said he would decide the fate of deaf ed in June.


On May 3, Musachio said she was happy to hear that there was hope for the deaf ed program. But she had made plans to attend Kent State University, where the cost is more than $31,000nearly twice the $17,500 price of IUP’s undergrad deaf ed program.

Musachio added that she was open to another change of plans.


“I would definitely consider coming back to IUP,” Musachio said in a May 3 text-message.


Tammy Stonecypher graduated summa cum laude from Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s journalism program in May. She is from Johnstown.



Fast Facts: Cost of IUP deaf ed


Following is the most recent information on the cost of IUP’s deaf education program. The dollar amounts include personnel salaries but not benefits.


                                            2007/08      2008/09     2009/10     2010/11

EDHL* Direct Cost            $264,988    $276,646   $306,007   $287,070


* Education of Students with Hearing Loss. Because of changes in the field’s accepted terminology, the name of the program has evolved, from Education of the Hearing Impaired, to Education of Students with Hearing Loss, to Deaf Education, its current name.

Source: Robert L. Bowser Jr., IUP open records officer, in response to a Pennsylvania Right to Know Law request. 


IUP deaf ed headcounts

Following is the most recent information on total numbers of students (freshmen-senior) enrolled in IUP’s deaf education program.  The final column lists the number of new students who had been accepted for the 2012-2013 academic year.


2007/08    2008/09     2009/10     2010/11         2011/12         2012/13

43             43              47               46                  48                  24*

*  Twenty-four students, even if they were all Pennsylvania residents, would generate more than $420,000 for the university.


Source: Robert L. Bowser Jr., IUP open records officer, in response to a Pennsylvania Right to Know Law request. 



For more information:

For more information about this story, contact the following sources:

Gerald W. Intemann, Ph. D.

Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs

Indiana University of Pennsylvania

205 Sutton Hall

Indiana, Pa.  15705

Phone:  724-357-2219

Email:  intemann@iup.edu


A. Keith Dils, Ed.D.

Interim Dean

College of Education and Educational Technology

Indiana University of Pennsylvania

104 Stouffer Hall

Indiana, Pa.  15705

Phone:  724-357-2482

E-mail:  kdils@iup.edu


Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education

2986 N. Second St.

Harrisburg, Pa.  17110

Phone:  717-720-7000

Kenn Marshall

External Relations

Phone:  717-720-4054


Becky A. Knickelbein, Ph. D.

Associate Professor

Department of Special Education and Clinical Services

Indiana University of Pennsylvania

205 Davis Hall

Indiana, Pa.  15705

Phone:  724-357-5675

E-mail:  Becky.Knickelbein@iup.edu


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