The Collegian sat down with Executive Vice President and Treasurer Kevan Buck, who has helped lead TU for 17 years.
Kevan Buck landed his first job in university finances as a comptroller at Ashland University in the late 1980s. After the interview, he walked to the campus library to look up the term “comptroller.”
“I was offered the position, and I said ‘sure, I can do that for you,’” Buck recalled. “Still, I had no idea what a comptroller did. I entered university finance as a ‘victim of circumstance.’”
He interviewed for the position because a woman he co-taught a graduate class with knew the university was hiring. “It was quite by chance that I ended up in the university financial field,” Buck said.
In 2000, Buck started his career at TU. He hit the ground running by managing the funding for a strategic ten year plan that TU’s Board of Trustees elected to implement.
Buck explained that “the plan was really first formulated in the early nineties, but as often happens, it took some time to begin implementation.” The plan centered around a capital campaign that provided for renovations to the football stadium, purchasing and developing the land where the Mayo and Lorton apartment complexes now stand (along with Thomas Plaza) and creating the university’s main entrance off of eleventh street.
“When OU and OSU created campuses in Tulsa, the board decided TU had to differentiate itself to attract students. One of the main ways we did this was by transforming TU from a commuter campus to a residential one,” Buck explained.
When Buck started at TU, approximately 30 percent of students lived on campus. Today that number is closer to 80.
TU built more on-campus housing for students. The black fencing that surrounds the campus came about from a desire to create a defined boundary between TU and the surrounding area.
Buck elaborated, “when I first got to TU, the whole area where the main entrance, Lorton and Mayo apartments are was Tulsa residential housing, its own neighborhood. If somebody wanted to know how to get to TU, he was told ‘go down eleventh and when you get to the hotdog place, turn left.’ We [the Board] knew we needed to make a change.”
During his time here Buck also saw the development of the USA West apartment complex, Collins Fitness Center and both the intramural field and soccer & track complex just west of Delaware Avenue.
He helped steer TU through the 2008 financial crisis too. The university lost 25 percent of its endowment, but did not take the blow that larger institutions like Harvard did. “We left unfilled positions vacant and took measures to save money where we could. What helped TU is that we had a lot of undesignated endowment funds that were not already earmarked for specific projects,” Buck stated.
Buck also oversees sustainability initiatives on campus. “Stead brought a lot of energy for sustainability efforts with him from California when he signed on as president,” Buck remembered. TU took major efforts starting the in early 2000s to become greener, including low-flow faucets in student housing, energy saving light bulbs in campus buildings and creating the recycling program the campus now enjoys.
Buck also participates in community organizations and sits on the board for Visit Tulsa, a group that strives to bring in as many programs and people to the city as possible. “We got NCAA tournament basketball and wrestling here and we were active in securing the Greco-Roman Wrestling World Trials in Tulsa this June.”
On changes he’s seen in higher education over his career, Buck mentioned that nowadays students and parents are more focused on the end product of a collegiate education. “A trend we have today is many students want to focus solely on major-related courses and going into that field of work after school. It is not bad, just a change from when I began.”
He also explained that with the age of information and advent of the internet, recruitment of new students became much more competitive. “Before technology really came into play, your average student would apply to 3, maybe 5 schools. Now we’re seeing kids who apply to 10, even upwards of 15. And because of this, they try to get the best financial deal possible from each of those multiple schools. It makes the financial aid process that much more competitive.”
On TU as an institution, Buck asserted that at a school of this size with many opportunities for students to get involved and get to know professors, “we [TU] enable a student to do more. College is not just the education you receive. It’s about the holistic experience.” Buck said that he didn’t think he’d be at TU this long, but he “fell in love with the city and school.”
“What TU provides for both its students and the community is simply extraordinary,” he concluded.