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December 3, 2021

Public safety education program set to close in 2019

By SEBASTIAN KETTNER | February 15, 2018

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The School of Education (SOE) will be phasing out its Division of Public Safety Leadership.

The Division of Public Safety Leadership (PSL) at the School of Education (SOE) will be phased out by December 2019, according to an announcement from SOE Dean Christopher Morphew. Current students will be able to complete their degrees, but no new students, including those currently in the application process, will be accepted.

PSL is a nationally-recognized program that combines liberal arts and leadership education to teach public safety officials. More than 90 heads of public safety agencies in the U.S., including over 75 chiefs of police, are graduates of the program. In addition, PSL has trained over 20,000 through non-credit programs.

In his announcement on Dec. 20, Morphew cited diminished enrollments, faculty turnover and a lack of academic focus as the reasons for shutting down the program.

Kyle Bodenhorn, a police sergeant in Prince George’s County who graduated from the Division in 2017, feels that the University was premature in ending the program during a time of strenuous relationships between law enforcement and the population.

“There’s a fractured relationship between public safety and the public — in the state of Maryland and nationally. Over the past two years, that’s become obvious,” Bodenhorn said. “There’s a big vacuum being left when this program disappears.” 

Founded in 1994 as the Police Executive Leadership Program, PSL offers a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Science degree in Organizational Leadership, as well as a Master of Science in Intelligence Analysis degree. The Master’s degree in Organizational Leadership is also available online.

In an interview with The News-Letter, Morphew said that the University will engage its alumni to ensure that the SOE will continue to play a central role in improving public safety education.

“My goal here is to figure out: how do we create the best organizational structure and how does the [SOE] meet the challenge of improving policing and public safety leadership in 2018?” Morphew said.

For many students and alumni, this program was a way to further protect their communities. Last year, Baltimore set a record for the number of murders per capita.

Bodenhorn said that closing the program contradicts the mission of the SOE.

“[Hopkins] literally sits in the middle of Baltimore City, a city that has notably one of the worst relationships between public safety and the citizens,” Bodenhorn said. “Where are we going to go to get this education? And how are we going to translate it into changes over the next 20 years?”

Major William Alexander, a PSL graduate and officer in Prince George’s County, believes that PSL’s education approach helps alter that atmosphere.

“This specific program is definitely exposing us and entrenching in us new ideas and thought processes that are helping us realign with what our communities want us to do,” Alexander said.

Chief David C. Morris of Riverdale Park Police Department is a graduate of the program and a former president of the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association (MCPA). PSL hosts MCPA at their Columbia Center in Southwest Baltimore.

When Morris became chief of police, he was the only employee in the department with a Master’s degree. In recent years he has sent officers to study at PSL during working hours.

“The people [that the PSL is producing] are going to be able to change agencies and shift the culture of police departments and make them more community-focused,” Morris said. “We’re making tremendous headway. This is not the time to turn back the clock.”

Morphew acknowledged a need for higher-quality policing and locally-trained leadership. He also stated that PSL fulfilled an important part of the SOE’s mission.

“The decision to close PSL does not mean we are stepping away from this mission,” he said. “It means what we are trying to do is find the best way to address the opportunities at hand in public safety leadership.”

Despite the successes of the program, enrollment in PSL degree programs fell from 250 in 2009 to 99 this past fall because the program faces growing competition from similar programs at other universities. Morphew said that the size of this decline in enrollment drew his attention because the SOE receives more than half of its revenue through tuition.

However, online enrollment in the division’s Master of Science in Organizational Leadership degree has increased in recent years.

Associate Professor Chris Dreisbach, the director of applied ethics and humanities for the PSL, said that the division had also planned to add another online degree program.

“We were about to send a proposal to the Maryland Higher Education Commission to create an online version of our Intelligence Analysis Master’s,” Dreisbach said. “We were feeling very confident about potential enrollment.”

According to Dreisbach, the SOE faced fiscal challenges left from the previous dean, but Dreisbach also stated that PSL itself was doing fine financially. 

This is largely due to the non-credit programs that PSL runs. The division had been working with the Department of Homeland Security on a variety of leadership courses and programs.

PSL is also funded through a $6.5 million grant from the Dept. of Homeland Security. Only $2.5 million of the grant is left, which is scheduled to run out in September 2019 — three months before the program will close.

Morphew said, however, that fiscal concerns were only part of a larger reason.

“The holistic approach to it, I’ve made looks at lots of things — enrollment, mission, faculty expertise and certainly financials are a part of that,” he said. “If you look at the whole picture, it looks pretty clear to me that we needed to go in a new direction.”

Many in the PSL believed that the analysis of the program was not thorough enough. Current students said that they had not been contacted. According to Morphew, SOE does not have many policies in place for reviewing programs.

Theresa Ridgley, a Master’s candidate in the program, does not believe that five months was enough time to make an appropriate judgment of the program.

“You couldn’t possibly gather all the people, resources and data to make an informed decision in that amount of time,” she said.

Morphew, however, said that he spoke with the PSL faculty and staff, as well as other leaders in the SOE and other affiliates of the program.

“I’ve talked with PSL alumni and tried to figure out why the program didn’t have the enrollments it had just a few years ago,” Morphew said.

According to Dreisbach, Morphew gave no indication that the program would be shut down during the review process.

“I would have appreciated his giving us the premises [for the closure] and asking us to respond to them. He didn’t bring us into the deliberation,” Dreisbach said.

Dreisbach also said that he was surprised that what alumni told Morphew could have led to the closing of the division. He said that the alumni he has heard from do not agree that the program has lost its identity.

He added that the staff were blindsided by the announcement that the program would end.

According to Morphew, many alumni lauded their experiences in the program. It was common for an alumnus to say the program was very valuable to them, Morphew claimed.

He also said that he regularly meets alumni from the program to hear their thoughts. 

“They’re looking at the landscape in the nation in 2018 and they’re saying, ‘Wow what a great opportunity to do something really needed,’” Morphew said. “They’re saying we’ve got to figure out a way to create a program that meets this opportunity head-on. So they look at the enrollments and they wonder what’s going on, just like I do.”

According to Alexander, the only communication from the SOE to alumni was Morphew’s announcement about the program’s closure.

“I am not aware of any other communication from the Dean to PSL alumni or current students, certainly nothing regarding a survey or request for feedback on the program, and its ability to succeed,” he wrote in an email to The News-Letter.

Morphew also cited a lack of identity and programmatic focus as a reason to close the program. However, Dreisbach said that in adding an online program, they were not simply broadening their identity but also capitalizing on it.

“If you come to a liberal arts school, we can make you a thinking practitioner, a scholar cop,” Dreisbach said. “Non-cops became interested in the program, and eventually we had enough interest from the intelligence community that we gave them their own Masters.”

Faculty and staff of PSL are unsure of what lies ahead. According to Morphew, the SOE is trying to find opportunities for faculty and staff after the program closes. Dreisbach said that while administrative positions will be safe, the future remains uncertain for faculty positions.

Professor Sheldon Greenberg, the former head of PSL, does not believe that the program’s end signifies that the University is faltering in public safety.

“Johns Hopkins University’s support for public safety education, training, research, and innovation was underway long before PSL was created and will continue long after it ends,” Greenberg wrote in an email to The News-Letter.

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