CEDAR FALLS, Iowa --- When Anna Mikhaylova came to the University of Northern Iowa in the fall of 2011 she had a specific plan in mind.
The Russia native would spend the next two years working and studying on the Cedar Falls campus, eventually graduating in the spring of 2013 with a master's degree in French.
Now she fears that plan has been derailed by sweeping academic cuts that eliminated her graduate program --- as well as more than 50 other undergraduate and graduate majors and minors.
"So far, there is not a single class offered, except a class of research, and it is just working on my graduation paper with a professor," Mikhaylova said. "Dr. (Anne) Lair, who used to be my academic adviser, says it is early for me to take such a class because I haven't even taken research methods so far."
As a substitute, Mikhaylova, the only French graduate student on campus, was offered two classes in the teaching English as a second language program. But she worries they will not be an adequate replacement for the courses she has lost. She also fears the substitutions will make it impossible for her to pass her comprehensive exams next spring. She said similar fears are shared by her German graduate student counterparts.
"I've only taken one class of literature, and I need one more, and one class of civilization, and I need one more. I've never taken translation. I would like to practice before my exam," she said.
Complicating matters is Mikhaylova's visa status. She will return to Moscow after finals. Her visa expires in June.
"I need to know whether to buy an airplane ticket back, if I need to apply for a visa or if I should start looking for a job in Moscow," she said. "They say I should just wait ... but I am an international student. I can't wait a half a year or just transfer to any other school."
Jeff Copeland, head of the department of languages and literatures at UNI, said officials are doing everything they can "to help make sure the quality of the educational experience will be everything we'd like it to be in the programs targeted for closure." He expects to know more sometime next week. Until then, he couldn't go into any detail about the process.
Lair, an associate professor in French, said despite pleas of help from students her hands are tied. Earlier this month she received notice via email that affected faculty were no longer allowed to advise students. Instead, students said, they were reassigned to advisers without specific knowledge of their majors.
Emily Smith, a senior in French teaching, sent a letter to Provost Gloria Gibson about the problems.
"After meeting with my new adviser, I discovered that he had very little knowledge of the French program. I wanted to know exactly how many classes I needed to finish my degree, and he could not tell me," she wrote. "... I was disappointed when all my new adviser suggested I do is to try to make other credits count for these classes. Essentially, just to make it so I don't have to take these courses."
Smith said she does not blame her new adviser, a literature professor, but added she has not received any help from administrators.
Associate Provosts Virginia Arthur and Michael Licari have repeatedly said students in affected programs would be able to take the classes they need to graduate, but the actual plan on what will happen is being left up to the individual departments. They deferred questions about specific programs to the department heads.
Though students in foreign languages appear to be the hardest hit by the changes, Siobahn Morgan, the head of the department of earth sciences, said her students have not been immune to the challenges. The university will no longer offer the undergraduate degrees in geology.
Morgan said two of the nine tenured faculty members in her department are being asked to leave. She could not say which of the four geology professors will leave, but did say they were given the option of a phased retirement, which would help get the students currently enrolled in the program through to graduation. Arthur said there is little financial difference in the early separation and phased retirement options.
However, their decisions won't be finalized until early May.
"We may not be able to teach some of these courses. We will never be able to teach some of these courses again," Morgan said. "If we lose any individual, they are not replaceable or interchangeable. You can't have a piano teacher teach opera."
For now, Morgan said, no changes have been made in the registration guide, but changes are possible, including whether a course is available and who is available to teach it. If the exiting professors choose the buyout over a phased retirement, Morgan said, she may have to pull professors from classes that are traditionally geared for elementary education majors, because those professors are science education and geology faculty. In some cases, adjunct professors may be asked to teach the courses tenured faculty once led, though administrators said early on that would not be necessary.
Morgan said she is monitoring the students as they register and recommending they take the geology courses they need now.
"It's unfairly putting a burden on the students," Morgan said.
Lair contends French, with more than 40 majors, and German, with more than 30 majors, were strong enough to be saved. She said if programs had to be eliminated, the university should have followed a model like the one used at the State University of New York at Albany, which eliminated French, Russian and Italian programs in 2010. There, though the cuts were still contentious, professors were allowed to stay on until all students had finished their programs, she said.
"I would say that is fair. It gives (professors) a chance to look for a job, but also to finish students," Lair said. "Because you have a contract with those students and also with the parents. At this point the contract is broken. I have parents calling me. I don't know what to tell them."
Jayna Shetterly, a senior in French teaching, is also waiting. She has no plans to transfer, in part because she is so far along with her degree, but said some of the underclassmen have already registered elsewhere. She has also had an adviser try to make courses she has already completed fit into the required credits needed for her major.
"I want to take the class that is needed. We need the classes that are part of our major. ... It honestly feels like (the administration) doesn't care about us at all, and they just want us out," Shetterly said. "I'm really worried about the quality of my degree and how it will look to everyone else. I am here because it was a quality college for French education, but it's not here anymore."