Faculty Senate approves alternative program cuts

The new changes will be presented to the Board of Trustees on Nov. 4 and 5 for final approval.

In their monthly meeting on Thursday, Oct. 17, the University of Tulsa’s Faculty Senate presented their alternative to True Commitment. In accordance to the terms offered by the Board of Trustees and administration, the Senate developed a plan that could potentially net $2.5 million in savings and did so just before the Oct. 21 deadline. Their resolution outlined the new academic cuts to be proposed to the board in lieu of the full rollout of TC, and reaffirmed the right of the Faculty Senate to be consulted in the future regarding such monumental changes at TU.

The resolution itself presents the plan through the lens of one primary concern: the state of shared governance at the University of Tulsa. This appears to be correlated with the problems that were the subject of the Faculty Senate meeting on Sept. 9, in which the senators voted that the administration and Board of Trustees violated Article VI of their constitution, which would require the approval of the Faculty Senate for sweeping institutional changes.

Item (1) of the resolution states that “the [Faculty] Senate endorses the program cuts and revenue-generating investments identified in Appendix 1 of this resolution” so long as “the administration adheres to the requirements set forth in items (2) and (3).” Those items are the most contentious, considering previous conflicts between Faculty Senate and administration.

Item (2) states that “if the administration wishes to implement additional portions of the True
Commitment plan,” then “all proposed actions shall first be considered by the appropriate…committees and be presented to the full Senate prior to being implemented or submitted to the Board of Trustees for a vote.”

Item (3) states that “the University shall complete a review and audit of administrative expenses at the University, including the category of Academic Support, and present the results to the Senate upon completion.”

The latter two items specifically address the fact that the administration did not abide by the guidelines of shared governance laid out in the Faculty Senate constitution, as well as the fact that the Faculty Senate was not allowed to take into account administrative costs when proposing this alternative plan.

In addition to this attempted redress, the resolution most importantly describes the cost-cutting measures that will be proposed as an alternative to the more broad cuts that were announced on April 11, 2019. This new proposal advocates for the closure of 49 percent of the programs that were initially tapped for removal under True Commitment; these new cuts were approved by their departments and will work in tandem with other cost-cutting measures proposed in the resolution to lower instructional costs to meet the stipulations given by the board.

Some of the most notable cuts approved by the Faculty Senate on Thursday were those to Bachelor’s degrees in deaf education, international business and language, information technology and geology. Multiple minors in the language and business departments were approved for closure as well as graduate degrees across all colleges, except the Oxley College of Health Sciences. A notable point is that 50 percent of the program cuts that were originally recommended in True Commitment are not present on this list.

Program cuts were not the only changes approved by the resolution. The appendix also includes some additional measures that would yield some degree of financial relief. These actions include the redesign of programs such as the physics and chemistry PhDs and the theatre BA, the removal of the course cap and a pledge to digitize syllabi to save paper.

After the meeting, Faculty Senate President Scott Holstrom and Vice President Jennifer Airey sent a joint statement over email outlining the timeline going forward: “We will prepare an opening statement and draft proposal to deliver to the Board on Monday” and would “workshop the details of the proposal with the administration in preparation for the Oct. 28 meeting with the Executive Committee of the Board.”

All of this will lead up to Nov. 4 and 5 when the newly proposed changes will be presented to the full board. Faculty Senate leadership went on to say that they “will then bring any and all results of our negotiations to the Senate for ratification in November’s meeting.”

When asked whether the administration would comply with Item (2)’s requirement — that any additional parts of True Commitment must be presented to the Faculty Senate before implementation — Faculty Senate President Scott Holmstrom stated, “I am very confident that the recommendations from the ad hoc college task forces…will be shared with the Faculty Senate for our review and comment prior to implementation or presentation to the Board.”

However, regarding the other points of contention, Holmstrom conceded, “We’ll have to wait and see on other aspects of True Commitment, namely program closures, course minimums, capacities and teaching loads. Most of these issues are being considered by the Faculty Senate standing committees, which will likely result in resolutions coming out of the Senate.”

This resolution passed by the Faculty Senate concludes a contentious 30-day period in which faculty sought to synthesize a workable alternative to True Commitment. For the first time in six months, there is clarity regarding the origins of this plan as well as its desired outcome. Although this alternative provides relief for the critics of True Commitment, it also poses an important question: why hasn’t this cooperation been present all along?