Does our new President indicate the death of True Commitment or even the birth of a total culture change at TU?
At the culmination of a weird year full of extraordinary events, one event slipped through the cracks, gaining a steady appreciation from those in the know and basically no acclaim by the vast majority of those affected. Formerly serving as the United States Army’s top legal representative, Brad Carson’s transition into the office of university president at the University of Tulsa came, like Batman, when he was needed the most. However, was his appearance the conclusion of a cultural shift at TU or a bandage on the bullet wound?
After the reveal of former President Gerard Clancy’s proposed series of budget cuts entitled True Commitment, the faculty, student body and associated alumni declared revolution. This plan of action led to a long fought war of attrition lasting from April 2019 to the first days of President Carson’s tenure in July 2021. Clancy left the university in the spring of 2020 and former interim president and provost Janet Levit left in the early summer of 2021. These two were the easily visible point-people for the budget cuts, and their departure eased the fears of many individuals.
Carson’s ascension seems to be an answered prayer for a beleaguered humanities department. As a former TU law professor who took upper level English seminars during his time of employment, his acceptance to the position implied an alliance with the arts, which would hopefully lead to the revision of True Commitment and reclaim territory lost to the increasing commercialization of TU. If not a true peace agreement, the Board’s decision to hire Carson indicates at least a cease-fire. At the present moment, that seems to be the case. Carson is working
closely with several key figures behind the resistance of True Commitment and seems sympathetic to both the need to modernize TU and retain the arts necessary to temper that shift in philosophy. President Carson deciding to let Janet Levit walk instead of offering her a position in his new university government also earned nods of approval.
government also earned nods of approval. At first glance, Carson appears as a wellrounded former professor and patriot that worked in the executive branch for several years under President Barack Obama, and my perception agrees with that instinctual investigation. However, simply having a new president that checks all the pro-humanities boxes does not alleviate the pressures TU still faces. We have a budget crisis, and that fact cannot be forgotten. Part of the prevention of True Commitment was the acceptance by the wider faculty that certain departments will have to reduce or close their graduate-level capabilities. And, unfortunately, that is most likely the correct decision.
One of former president Clancy’s pet projects focused on transforming TU into a critical development point for cybersecurity technicians and professionals, believing that the developing market and martial use of cybersecurity would make the way for lucrative government contracts. Carson, as former secretary of the army, seems to bet on the same outcome, though not to the degree that he would cut departments for the necessary capital. When Carson’s affiliation with the Department of Defense became widespread, one student glibly remarked that she saw the odds at 50/50 Carson had either committed a war crime or covered one up. Although that statement is hyperbolic in nature, that fear speaks to the general distrust of bureaucrats by the common man, as well as the faculty.
Part of what earned Clancy and Levit such disdain lies in their bureaucratic nature and their lack of transparency. Whether valid or not, it is a sign of our times that people perceived as pencil pushers need to do more for the same amount of respect earned by other professions. However, this spring cleaning of the executive branch of TU has left me wanting more. Not jobs nor apologies nor anything of that ilk, but the culture of TU writhes in this eternal pain of paranoia.
Nothing is normal at TU. The professors still look behind their shoulders, afraid to comment on anything done by a higher up or a coworker due to a fear of retaliation (some of those True Commitment proponents came from the upper hierarchies of faculty departments), and that strikes me as a symptom of a serious illness that still requires treatment. We have stagnated in our confusion and anxiety, and now we seem to have forgotten that we did not always feel this way. Instead of settling for a simply okay situation in which to work and learn, we should be pushing forward towards a better campus culture among the academics and away from simply placing the blame on select individuals.