Monday, June 09, 2008

Speak Up Because Others Cannot

As some of you may know, a travesty is in the making regarding the University of Tennessee. Last week, the University of Tennessee proposed cutting the Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology in the College of Arts and Sciences; the Industrial and Organizational Psychology graduate program in the College of Business Administration; and the dance program, a minor concentration in the College of Education, Health and Human Services in a number-crunching move designed to help eliminate $11.1 million from next year's budget.

Take a look at those programs. To be honest, I don't know much about the Industrial and Organizational Psychology program, so I can't comment on that. I never had much official interaction with the dance program while I was majoring in Theatre at UT, but from time to time recitals would be presented in the Music Hall, where I had a work study position. As a student of the arts who's made it into a professional sideline, I am always wary about those who would cut the arts from any curriculum.

However, the Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology is a different animal. I want to tell you about a friend of mine, Hal Luper.

From his bio:
Dr. Harold Luper was head of the department of audiology and speech pathology from 1963-1986. He became director of the Hearing and Speech Center in 1966 when the center merged with the department. During his tenure, the first doctoral degrees were awarded and new clinical programs such as the UT Hospital Clinic, the Neuropathology program, and the Pediatric Language Clinic were added.
The Silverstein-Luper Building on the UT campus that houses the Hearing and Speech Center is partly named in his honor.

For several years, Dr. Luper sat beside me in the tenor section of the Bearden United Methodist Choir. When my wife and I first came to Bearden and joined the choir he was probably one of the first people I met. Soft-spoken with a gentle sense of humor and a keen mind, I looked forward to speaking with him every chance I could.

Unfortunately, about ten years ago while on a trip by himself to his native Portugal Hal tragically passed away. The news shocked us all... We've been very fortunate to continue to be blessed with his wife and daughter in our choir, as well as many other members of his family in the church. The family also owns and operates Naples restaurant on Kingston Pike, a local Italian favorite for many years.

But at the slash of a red pen, the department he worked so hard to build could come to an end.

My friendship with Hal and his family are my personal connection to the story. But there's a bigger reason to save this department - the work that they do for not only the dedicated students of audiology and speech pathology that have come through and continue to learn, but the many people the Speech Center has helped recover from such challenges as stuttering, voice and laryngeal disorders, hearing-impairments, children developmental and speech delays and other life-altering situations. According to current department head, Ilsa Schwarz:
The department clinic draws patients from as far as the Virginia and Kentucky border and is one of the largest university clinics of its kind in the U.S. There is an entire region of the state that will be without (an audiology and speech pathology) program.
The program has won national awards and great recognition in its field and more importantly has assisted many people with speech and hearing afflictions that otherwise may never have found the opportunity to live more productive lives.

Many local opinionists agree - today's News Sentinel editorializes:
Phasing out UT's [Audiology and Speech Pathology] program over the next couple of years might be - as one UT dean noted - 'the best of the bad choices under the circumstances,' but it will stand as a ringing indictment of the state's inability, if not unwillingness, to fund higher education at a level that encourages success and competitiveness in all areas instead of merely survival until the next round of budget cuts.
What can we do?

I have a list of all the email addresses of the UT Board of Trustees, including UT President John Peterson and Governor Phil Bredesen. Since I'm a nice guy and at least fairly ethical, I'm not going to post the email addresses online for fear of attracting spammers to their mailboxes but if you are as concerned about the possible loss of these departments as I am and are willing to contact these Board members and request that the decision be reconsidered, I'd be happy to give them to you. Simply email me at and I'll get back to you as soon as I can.

It's my understanding the final decision is set for a Board meeting next week. Time is of the essence. I'll try and find out for certain what the deadline is and update this post.

I know budget shortfalls are never easy to overcome. Not only are these departments threatened - campus administration may have to absorb $6.7 million in cuts, as well as other campus academic departments and chancellor areas. But of all the departments at UT that do good for not only the student population but the community in general, the Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology should have been one of the last ones to go. Please let your voice be heard and request the decision be reconsidered.

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