Board rejects faculty senate’s alternative to True Commitment

The board’s decision came on the same week that the accreditation liaison met with the Faculty Senate and the administration.

Multiple developments impacting the restructuring plans at the University of Tulsa this week point toward a more turbulent future as faith in leadership, accreditation and the level of shared governance were all brought into question.

On Wednesday, Oct. 6, Tom Bordenkircher, a liaison from the Higher Learning Commision (HLC), met with the University of Tulsa’s Faculty Senate to discuss the changes that have occured at TU since the HLC’s last visit in November of 2018.

Administration has cited previous visits from HLC as one of the various catalysts for True Commitment. However, this meeting focused on what has happened since the April 11 rollout of the plan.

The meeting began contentiously as multiple faculty members engaged in heated exchanges with Bordenkircher regarding the involvement of faculty in the TU’s changes.

According to faculty sources, one of the fundamental takeaways of this meeting was the extent to which the HLC was unaware of the turbulence wrought by the True Commitment announcement. One notable exchange involved a faculty member broaching the subject of the administration’s use of non-disclosure agreements, or NDAs, specifically in regards to the Provost’s Program Review Committee. Bordenkircher responded, “What’s an NDA?”

After the discussion delved deeper into the fallout of True Commitment, a professor from the College of Arts and Sciences pushed back against the idea that faculty resistance was rooted in ignorance. Describing the faculty as “well-informed,” they claimed that the problem stemmed simply from a “lack of confidence in the administration, and [from a] lack of transparency.”

However, this view did not go unchallenged. A faculty senator from the College of Arts and Sciences insisted to Bordenkircher that the assembled group of faculty was not a representative sample of all attitudes across campus, and that the overall climate across campus was far less one-sided against the administration.

Another vital topic was discussed following a Senator from the College of Law expressing doubts in the leadership of the university; this apprehensiveness would later be solidified following the announcement of an official vote of no-confidence in university leadership in response to the Board’s wholesale rejection of the Faculty Senate’s alternative to True Commitment.

On Thursday, Nov. 7, the Board of Trustees of the University of Tulsa chose to reject the plan presented to them by the Faculty Senate that would have made major alterations to the True Commitment plan. This came after both a 30-day planning period and a presentation of the plan by Faculty Senate leadership to the Board earlier last week. That proposed plan would have only cut 50 percent of the degree programs that were slated to be closed as a result of True Commitment.

The purpose of this decision was, in Clancy’s words, “in the spirit of bringing us together and moving forward.”
Though this does not directly address the Faculty Senate’s plan or give reason as to why the Board rejected it, Clancy does write that, “[T]he board remains resolute in its opinion that the recommendations in the Strategic Plan and True Commitment remain our best path forward. While we welcome suggestions for improvement through established pathways, there will be no ‘repeal’ or ‘rollback’ of True Commitment.”

When asked for comment regarding the decision, chairman of the Board of Trustees Frederic Dorwart responded with: “The True Commitment represents the strong work of the faculty itself. The President and the Provost continue to work diligently with the Faculty Senate and those faculty willing to move the University forward, consistent with the University’s Strategic Plan and True Commitment. The Board of Trustees has, as recently as November 5, unanimously resolved its unconditional support of the President and Provost.”

When asked for comment from administration, Senior Executive Director of Marketing & Communications Mona Chamberlin directed us to the announcement made by Clancy. That announcement was emailed to faculty and staff on Thursday and is accessible on the university’s website.

The HLC visit and the rejection of the Faculty Senate’s proposal both represent major developments in the ongoing fallout from both the announcement of the True Commitment plan and the lack of faculty involvement in the plan’s design.

Bordenkircher captured this attitude when he commented on the relationship between the faculty and the administration by saying, “The administration honestly hasn’t told me anything about how you [faculty] feel.” Bordenkircher also said that the board believes that its relationship with the faculty is “good.” This seems tenuous in light of the no-confidence vote for President Clancy and Provost Levit next Wednesday.