This January, TU rolled out its new “Strategic Plan.” It outlines in broad strokes the plan the university has for its place in the future. The central theme of the plan is producing “well-rounded” alumni that study both STEM — also called “professional studies” — and liberal arts. The purpose of creating this “well-rounded” student is simply to make students “career-ready,” not to instill deeper learning. The plan also includes a “job guarantee” for all new undergraduates, as if the new selling point of TU weren’t already clear enough.
It’s become increasingly clear that TU sees itself as a technical school first and an intellectual institution only incidentally. Programs like English and film studies are relics that only survive by the graces of people who choose to take them up in addition to “professional” — i.e. profitable — majors. A student who only studies the liberal arts has no place in this new plan, but one who only studies STEM certainly does.
The plan also includes a focus on “energy and cyber [security].” Part of this focus that isn’t directly mentioned is the new cyber security online masters. Claiming to be targeted at “working professionals,” the program is entirely online and focuses solely on career applications. The program has also been heavily marketed as part of the plan. Cyber security is the keystone to TU’s relationship with the Department of Defense, who regularly recruit from our cyber graduates. It’s no secret that cyber security and “energy” professionals are what is needed by the Tulsa elite to fuel corporate growth. The oil industry runs deep in Oklahoma, and cyber security is a burgeoning industry in the city.
This focus on STEM will always feel like an insult to all of the amazing research and study being done outside of Keplinger Hall. Our school houses one of the greatest collections of James Joyce documents and even publishes a quarterly journal on the author. There are many great professors and departments being sidelined in favor of the profitable and corporate-adjacent STEM fields. They may not face direct cuts in this plan, but they are clearly not the priority of TU.
It’s also important to remember that the preference for STEM and “professional” fields is not a direly needed shift to keep the university financially afloat. Rather, it is driven by the powerful and ultra-rich figures who have input through the Board of Trustees. The Board of Trustees is in large part composed of CEOs and presidents of giant corporations. For them, TU needs to be a factory of profitable employees that can serve the needs of the companies. Corporations are in need of cyber security professionals, not Joyce scholars.
The exact implications of this program are still unclear, and reading through the Strategic Plan’s website will only fill you with corporate PR-speak. The plan is really just a broad outline of theoretical goals, not a precise indication of policy change. There haven’t been any True Commitment-styled budget cuts announced. However, in the words of the Board of Trustees’s Chairwoman Dana Weber, “this plan has the potential to transform this institution.” It’s clear that TU wants to shift its focus to certain fields and has no problem if that leaves other fields out to dry. The shift to a technical institution is a slow, arduous process, but it is happening.