Program, school fight for survival

By Jeff Sklar
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, January 23, 2004

Med Tech, Planning School address regents

TEMPE - Supporters of the Medical Technology program, which faces possible elimination, pleaded with the Arizona Board of Regents yesterday to spare their program, saying recent studies demonstrated that it fills a critical need in Arizona.

Despite their pleas, Provost George Davis said the program faces fundamental problems that make its future bleak.

Speaking to the regents, the health care professionals said that in the year since top UA administrators proposed closing the program, two studies have demonstrated that the state faces a shortage of medical technologists.

One study showed that a shortage of medical technologists is one of the state's top five health care crises, said Debbie Wyckoff, interim director of the program.

She told the regents that 33 percent of her employees are UA graduates, and warned that Arizona will need 160-190 new medical technologists within three years, making the shortage more serious than the nursing or pharmacy shortages.

The speakers also said medical technologists would play a vital role as Arizona and the UA try to capitalize on the booming biotechnology industry.

Of workers in that field, 28 percent are medical technologists and about three-fourths hold college degrees, Wyckoff said.

She said that figure came from a plan released by the Batelle Memorial Institute, which outlined how Arizona could become a national leader in the biosciences, an industry that could bring high-paying jobs to the state and large research grants to the universities.

Medical technologists do work that involves blood sample analysis and cholesterol and anemia tests. That work, the speakers said, is critical to providing timely and comprehensive health care.

"Over 80 percent of all diagnoses are based on the results that are provided to a physician by a medical technologist," said Linda Smith, director of laboratory services at Northwest Medical Center.

But Davis said that despite the outside need, student demand for the program is minimal, and the program still does not appear to justify continued funding.

High school students aren't expressing interest in the program, he said.

"Interestingly, there's not much demand for the program," he said. "Do you want to work with a lot of blood samples?"

Fifteen students graduated with degrees in medical technology in 2002 and figures were similar for the previous three years.

Davis also took issue with one speaker's contention that the UA would save less than $300,000 by closing the program. The program's operating budget, which pays faculty salaries and other expenses, isn't the only issue, he said.

During a recent review of the program, the evaluators were "appalled" with the program's facilities, he said. Fixing them would require a large investment that the university doesn't want to make.

"We're not interested in (investing) precious capital project money into that program," he said, adding that medical technology doesn't fit into the university's fundamental mission.

That was the issue at hand when Davis and President Peter Likins initially proposed eliminating the program last January. When they elected in March to keep it on a list of programs they would propose to eliminate, they cited its lack of a research mission and collaboration with other departments as critical factors in their decision.

Regents yesterday also heard again from supporters of the School of Planning, which, along with medical technology, faces elimination.

Planning supporters in their red shirts have become a mainstay at regents' meetings. But with only about 10 people decked out in "Save the School of Planning" shirts, the contingent was noticeably smaller yesterday than in the past. In September, the last time regents met in Tempe, about 35 supporters attended the meeting.

Barbara Becker, the school's director, said junior faculty members in the school are looking at other jobs. She also said she was getting concerned that the process of potentially closing the school was dragging on.

"Not much is new," she said. "That's what's scary."

Davis said a faculty review committee is being assembled to evaluate the school's potential closure, and said he hopes administrators will be able to send a final proposal to regents by the end of spring.

He said a reorganization proposal includes offering planning as part of a graduate interdisciplinary proposal. Such a program might be eligible for accreditation, he said.

The planning school is credited through 2007 and recognized as one of the nation's leading programs, Becker said.

Regents didn't respond yesterday to the speakers' statements because of a board policy that prevents regents from responding to speakers during public comments.

Both programs were proposed for elimination under Focused Excellence, a program Likins unveiled about a year and a half ago with the intent of narrowing the university's mission and turning it into a top public research institution.