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Ire growing over Y. proposal

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PROVO — Compared to other college campus uprisings, a protest at Brigham Young University over a recommendation to revamp a popular international-studies program is quite civil.

"If this was taking place anywhere else I'd be getting boos and catcalls and being shouted down," said Noel Reynolds, a top BYU administrator who fielded questions last week about the proposals from a crowd of about 200 students during a forum.

Still, it's not often students and alumni publicly rebuke the administrative powers-that-be at the school owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

And sentiment is growing more heated as word spreads about an early-stage recommendation to scale back programs offered through BYU's David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies. The center was created in 1983 to coordinate the various international efforts in departments across campus.

The center — though not an academic department — also oversees some inter-disciplinary classes, foreign study programs, internships and community-service efforts.

According to the recommendation, instead of building more courses and seeking more resources from the university, the Kennedy Center should maintain four undergraduate programs and 17 minors while mostly providing expertise for academic departments developing international programs.

The recommendations come from a panel that was convened in October to examine the center's International and Area Studies program. Panelists scrutinized the governance of the program, the rigor of courses and whether it had adequate funding and faculty support.

To the chagrin of some students and faculty, the panel, made up of 10 sitting and retired professors, recommended in a report released in December that BYU should discontinue two of the center's six four-year degrees.

A master's degree in international studies and a proposed major in developing countries also should be axed, according to the report by the panel, led by Reynolds.

The suggestion to yank the programs rests largely on the fact the Kennedy Center does not have any professors. It relies on professors from other departments to teach its classes.

But the center doesn't compensate departments for releasing faculty to teach in the IAS programs — or allow the academic departments to review or give input on how classes are taught.

"This has created enormous tension," said Reynolds.

Faculty willing to teach classes in their home departments in addition to IAS classes — often with little or no pay — has slipped significantly in the past five years, Reynolds said.

"Many who were supporters in the past are not supporters today," he said. "However good this program is, we have to say they don't have the faculty support for this."

BYU graduate Tiffany Ivins said faculty support is sliding as a result of deans and department chairs refusing to allow professors time away from regular assignments.

The panel was "judging (faculty support) against the very thing that limited it," said Ivins, who is among the alumni who are lobbying university officials through letters, e-mails, phone calls and petitions to lay aside many of the panel's suggestions.

Also noteworthy: The panel really irked students and alumni by saying in the report that students enroll as International Studies majors because of a "perceived ease of completion."

Some 700 students are enrolled in the program.

But supporters counter that suggestion with lists of graduates who hold prestigious positions or were accepted by Ivy League graduate schools after leaving BYU. And data from 1995 shows about 17 percent of IAS students earned $55,000 per year or more after graduating.

Coinciding with the report's release, the center's director, Don Holsinger, was released from his post and returned to a teaching job. Holsinger served a five-year term.

BYU officials say they won't hire a new center director until they've finalized decisions about what responsibilities the center will have for the campus. Reynolds thinks the center should serve as a resource for the departments.

"We need one office to know what BYU is doing internationally," he said. "The Kennedy Center provides an expert staff for things like contacting embassies and cultural expectations. You know, help them dance the dance. We don't want any department to learn the hard way."

Carri P. Jenkins, the university's spokeswoman, said the university has not made any final decisions about the future of the program. "It's still very much in the review stage," she said.

BYU also will continue to support the program until all students who are currently enrolled have completed the courses, Reynolds said.


E-MAIL: jeffh@desnews.com