On April 11, 2019, the University of Tulsa announced “True Commitment,” an ambitious restructuring plan that sought to reorganize the university in response to the changing landscape of higher education. Although True Commitment was created to avoid financial, regulatory and demographic crises, its introduction was wrought with criticism leveled at its substance, process and accompanying diligence. As a result, the early weeks of the semester have been plagued with general unrest and confusion regarding all parts of the proposal.
In an attempt to gather information about the current state of True Commitment, The Collegian sat down for an interview with President Gerard Clancy, Provost Janet Levit, Faculty Senate President Scott Holmstrom and Faculty Senate Vice President Jennifer Airey. That interview was conducted in person with questions that were furnished beforehand.
Reasons for restructure
The administration has cited multiple major factors that made True Commitment necessary, but the three most prominent remain the University’s financial standing, a crisis involving TU’s regional accreditor and a decline in student interest for several programs. Both President Clancy and Provost Levit have spoken at length about the complexities involved in these factors, but some of the key facts about the reasons behind these changes began are not yet clear.
Are we presently in a financial emergency situation? If not, are we approaching that cliff? And how does this reconcile with, Dr. Clancy, your public claims of us being on solid financial footing?
Dr. Clancy: “We are in an emergency situation in that we need to take steps every year — probably for the next five years — to be able to put ourselves in a stronger position than we are right now. If we continue to operate the way we are we will not be able to make it financially.”
The financial emergency was referenced by the HLC in their report, is that correct?
Provost Levit: “In the report from the HLC, there was a clear acknowledgement that there had been a lack of oversight by multiple parties, including the board and other parties, and that oversight included our finances.”
Do you guys have that HLC report? Are students and faculty able to access that report?
Levit: “There were two interim reports: one was from the team that came to campus, and the second one was a report from the Institutional Actions Committee. Those were made available to faculty to read in my office, and those reports were interim. And we fought really hard to have the conclusion that was recommended in the first report (which was a public sanction) to have that overturned. So if the report essentially became public, then that would have undermined all of our efforts over the summer to prevent a public sanction.”
Clancy: “I think it’s important to note that the report from the team that was here in spring of 2018 was a recommendation; they were recommendations to the board. We were able to go in front of the Institutional Actions committee, let them know our actions from the Spring of 2018 to August, and what we would do going forward. That was met with strong approval from the board, and we are now fully accredited.”
Since the April 11 announcement, proponents and critics of True Commitment have been poring over the reasons for a structural change at TU. However, in the first few weeks of the semester multiple developments have shifted the debate into a new area.
On Thursday Aug. 29, the University of Tulsa’s Faculty Senate voted to pass a resolution asserting that the administration violated the senate’s constitution (specifically Article VI) in its rollout of True Commitment. That vote brought up questions about the rapid nature of the administration’s role out of the plan last semester, the committee that suggested the changes and the potential for a vote of no confidence in the administration.
Why wasn’t True Commitment brought before the Faculty Senate?
Levit: “I would like to argue the point that it wasn’t presented to the Faculty Senate. The PPRC had two faculty senate members on it, by virtue of their faculty senate position. There are also two other members of the PPRC who were steering committee members on the faculty senate. So of 12 faculty, a third of them were Faculty Senate representatives. I attended every Faculty Senate meeting last spring. The Chairman of the Board [Frederic Dorwart] attended the Faculty Senate last spring, and he answered lots of questions; not a single question was posed […] about if the Faculty Senate would be able to see True Commitment before it is rolled out to campus — here was every opportunity to ask that. So I guess I would argue that the faculty senate was included in the deliberations and the recommendations.”
The PPRC had signed non-disclosure agreements. Did these prevent the Faculty Senate members from putting True Commitment on the agenda?
Levit: “The nondisclosure agreements would have prevented them from putting [True Commitment] on the agenda without asking for permission in advance, but they would never ask for permission in advance. There are also two other members of the PPRC who were steering committee members on the faculty senate. […]”
Why weren’t students more involved in the creation of True Commitment?
Levit: “My first point would be that, in a way, students were intimately involved in the process because many of the recommendations were in direct response to student enrollment patterns and decisions that they had been making over the past five to 10 years. So, it was looking at the preferences of students which very much drove many of the decisions. Then, I mean students were involved as soon as they were able to be involved, and we’ve had lots of opportunities to consult with the Student Association. Lots of meetings with students in the wake of the rollout of True Commitment. Additionally, much of the feedback that we’ve received from both students and faculty have found their way into changes and alterations.”
Clancy: “We also have student representation on the Board of Trustees.”
30 day timer
The Faculty Senate vote on Aug. 29 and questions about the administration’s formulation and rollout of True Commitment led to what is now the biggest development since the announcement of the plan on April 11.
In the faculty senate meeting on Sept. 19, the administration presented an offer from the board for the faculty senate leadership to craft a new plan in place of True Commitment. That offer also involves a 30-day timer, along with the stipulations that the new plan must achieve the same fiscal savings as True commitment and be presented to the board for approval.
What will happen if the Board of Trustees does not accept the proposed new changes?
Clancy: “My sense is that they will be evaluated recommendation-by-recommendation. It’s not really an all-or-nothing kind of thing. But if the Board doesn’t accept anything? We haven’t really had those types of discussions.”
So, are you seeking to incorporate the ideas that are currently being offered by the faculty in this new plan, or into True Commitment?
Dr. Airey: “I think we’ve been talking about it as ‘True Commitment 2.0,’ so the goal is to take what worked in the plan, things that there is significant faculty buy-in around, and then work to come up with better alternatives for things that faculty are unhappy with.”
In your opinion, what were the most successful parts of True Commitment?
Airey: “I mean, there will be different ideas from across campus. I would say that University Studies is a great idea, and that one that we should continue to develop…There’s the Tulsa Curriculum Review Committee, which I’m on, that is currently looking at revising the Tulsa curriculum as a whole. So the University Studies would take whatever the committee comes up with, and then leave in some other things—the Honors Program, the Presidential Leaders Fellows—that kind of thing, and create a uniform freshman experience. I think that has a lot of potential to be great for this university.”
One last clarification: when is the 30-day timer up? There has been some confusion surrounding this.
Levit: “Oct. 21. Which is a little more than 30 days, […] but that was 30 rounded up, after a weekend.”
As the timer on this section of TU’s attempt at restructuring begins, faculty senate will likely try and preserve parts of the original plan that they believe works and remove the parts that they don’t.
What was announced on April 11 and what will begin implementation in the next few months are both extensive plans to restructure the University of Tulsa. However, it is unclear whether True Commitment will fully endure in this transition to True Commitment 2.0. The changes to True Commitment that occurred over the summer and the ones that may occur in the next few weeks have posed an important question. Will this new plan truly be True Commitment 2.0?