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Auburn Students, Alumni Contest Decision to 'Sunset' Aviation Program

May 13, 2013

Advocates fighting to preserve aviation-related curricula at Auburn University say they are in a "state of shock" following a May 10 meeting of the school's aviation advisory board that included an announcement by Bill Hardgrave, dean of the College of Business, of his intent to outsource Auburn's flight training program to a third-party.

"Our recommendation is to 'sunset' the degree program," Hardgrave read from a prepared statement to the group of approximately 50 students, parents, alumni, industry representatives, military and advisory board members.

In a release following the meeting, the university stated it will "refer the existing degree in professional flight management to the University Senate's Academic Program Review Committee for review and if the program is discontinued will work with the enrolled students to ensure they are able to complete their degrees."

NBAA reported last week on efforts to preserve the aviation degree program at the Alabama school. Comprised of the aviation management program and the professional flight management program, Auburn's aviation education program is the only one of its kind in the state, graduating close to 4,000 students since its inception in 1941. Review the article.

Even though Hardgrave expressed his intent to maintain the aviation management program's accreditation with the Aviation Accreditation Board International (AABI) to "preserve the legacy of aviation at AU,” that news was quickly overshadowed by the flight program announcement.

Advocates fear that without formal university backing, Auburn students would no longer receive elective credit for flight training, or have that training count academically towards additional ratings.

"The dean was specifically asked, if this program is contracted out to a third party, whether the student could still take flight lessons and get academic credit," recalled corporate pilot and aviation advisory board treasurer Andy Kilgore. "He said ‘no’."

"If we lose the flight program, we then lose our developing relationship with JetBlue, as well as other longstanding relationships with other airlines and corporate entities," added United Airlines captain and Auburn alumnus Jason Mohrman.

In announcing the decision, Hardgrave noted that only six students would graduate this semester from the flight management program.

"When we look at the [professional flight] program as a standalone program, it has been in a state of decline for years," he said. "We simply cannot maintain a program that has that low an enrollment."

Hardgrave further asserted that privatizing the flight school would create new training opportunities for the public that are not presently available – a statement Mohrman disagreed with.

"You can come to Auburn right now and learn to fly, even if you're not a student," he said. "According to the current flight instructors, roughly 10 to 12 residents from Auburn and the surrounding communities are taking flying lessons at the school.”

Despite this setback, advisory board members determined to preserve the entirety of Auburn's aviation program.

"This recommendation is simply unacceptable given AU's industry reputation and tremendous growth in aviation,” Mohrman concluded. “We have an obvious disconnect between the dean and the aviation industry, and we will continue to raise awareness and educate the Governor, President and Board of Trustees.”

Watch a video of Dean Hardgrave’s statement.