Updated as of 2:05 pm, April 17th, 2019. Lightly edited for grammar, syntax and a redundancy.
The faculty-led committee will cut 84 degree programs as part of an effort to prepare TU for changes in the academic landscape.
Recent, drastic changes announced at the University of Tulsa have a significant portion of TU studentry and faculty challenging decisions made by the administration. Specifically, TU will be losing 40 percent of its degree programs, going from 196 programs across five colleges to 112.
This restructuring also includes a reorganization of the various colleges on campus into three distinct categories: Henry Kendall College, which will retain the Arts and Sciences curriculum with a new emphasis on interdisciplinary studies; Engineering and Natural Sciences, which will retain curriculum from those two fields of studies; and a “Professional Super College,” which will combine the business, law and health colleges.
In addition, a new compulsory area of study aimed toward “student success,” as termed by President Gerard Clancy, will be formed, called University Studies. Clancy said, “Our central focus is on student success. We want our students to be successful when they come here, and that means graduating on time with low debt, with a job in hand or a graduate school in hand … That’s really the focus[,] student success[,] … we want people to feel like they got the degree and the preparation they wanted.”
Regarding these large changes, President Clancy said, “I actually call it the third transformation of TU.” This is the largest and most significant change seen by the university in over three decades.
The following information is paraphrased from a more in-depth timeline at utulsa.edu/truecommitment.
June 2018: The Provost’s Program Review Committee (PPRC) is formed. Nominees are chosen by the Faculty Senate and interviewed by the president, provost and Faculty Senate. Tracy Manly, an accounting professor, is named chair of the committee.
July – Sept. 2018: Program data collection methods are devised and put into action. Data will be used to determine which programs will be cut.
Sept. – Dec. 2018: Data from every program on campus is reviewed. Data sheets are released and available for review in the provost’s office.
Jan. 2019: PPRC finalizes suggestions with deans.
Feb. – March 2019: Suggestions are shared with other administration staff, as well as the board of trustees. Plans for implementation come into focus.
Apr. 2019: Board of trustees approves the PPRC’s suggestions, which are subsequently shared with all teaching faculty in a meeting between 10:00 a.m. and around 11:20 a.m. on Thursday, April 11, 2019.
The PPRC and its decisions
The “True Commitment” webpage shared by President Clancy with the entire campus announces that the PPRC compiled and reviewed the data “that reveals clearly who we are.” It goes on to say, “For too long, we have tried to be everything to everyone. We have been spread too thin and, in many cases, have not been able to achieve excellence as a result.”
To that end, the PPRC’s responsibilities have primarily revolved around the decisions of which programs to cut. What Clancy sees as a need for the university to adapt to a changing landscape for higher education influences the decision to cut programs.
“This is for the long-term benefit of the students, and for the long-term benefit of the institution,” said Clancy. He referred to a line chart that showed the number of college-attending students dropping rapidly and suddenly by 2030.
The PPRC, however, never saw the costs of the programs they were suggesting to cut or retain. “This wasn’t budget control,” Clancy said. “This was really looking at program review, program viability. … The PPRC did not see money at all.”
The PPRC’s suggestions were reportedly made regarding participation rates and other aspects of program viability. “We didn’t want the decisions to be financially driven; we wanted it to be [about] quality of education. … We didn’t want that hanging over their head over and over again, that we’ll do this for cost-cutting measures; that we’ll do this for financial reasons,” Clancy explained.
Nominees to the PPRC, according to Tracy Manly, were asked if they were willing to make cuts to their own programs, and they were denied a seat on the committee if they refused. “[We wanted to know, w]ere they willing to work for the university, rather than just their departments?” Clancy explained.
The PPRC was formed following a visit by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) in 2018. The HLC is the organization that reports to the government and grants accreditation to post-secondary facilities in the central part of the United States, in which Oklahoma is included. In the “Academic Strategy for the University of Tulsa” — a 52-page PDF that breaks down the PPRC’s decisions, calculation methods and the future of the university of large — the HLC is credited as the genesis of these changes. A statement directly from the HLC regarding TU, made during their visit to campus last March, is listed as follows:
“Decision-making has not been strategically driven. For example, academic programs are eliminated through attrition and scarce resources.
“Some 20 programs have had six or fewer graduates per year over three recent years[.] The only mechanism shared for the elimination of programs is the attrition of program faculty.
“The current process of program review also does not include a mechanism to evaluate program alignment with mission or strategic plan to allow for mission-driven allocation of resources. Program elimination appears to be primarily driven by faculty attrition rather than institutional mission and enrollment.
“The review team recommends intense institutional oversight to ensure that there is a systematic review of all undergraduate programs including those that cross disciplines. Program reviews should include a detailed financial component and discussion related to program sustainability. In addition, a systematic process that allows for the elimination of programs is recommended through shared governance.”
The PPRC, then, can be viewed as a response to these comments, among other stimuli on campus. “Beginning ten months ago,” Clancy explained, “we began a faculty-led process. … [The PPRC’s] charge was to review all programs for growth: to maintain, or to be phased out. … Which programs are viable, which ones look strong going forward, which ones are low-enrollment, and such.”
Clancy also mentioned that he stayed out of the PPRC’s decision-making process to keep it faculty-led. Overarchingly, as Clancy put it, “We needed to change. The Higher Learning Commission told us we needed to change.”
Beyond the program cuts, perhaps the largest change coming to campus is the introduction of University Studies, described in the “Academic Strategy” as “one of the boldest and most inspired decisions,” and also as the “common entry point for all entering freshmen.” University Studies will consist of “Global Scholars, Honors/Classical Studies, Presidential Leaders Fellowship and the Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge.”
It is also billed as the “academic analog to the recently announced Student Success Center,” which is defined in a graphic as encompassing the interests of University Studies, Engineering and Natural Sciences, Professional Programs and Arts and Science Interdisciplinary Studies. Further defined on the True Commitment webpage and located in Hardesty Hall, the Student Success Center “will bring the most critical student services under one roof, knocking down silos while streamlining and enhancing our current levels of support for our students. This one-stop-shop approach has made a positive impact at other universities, and we already see the benefits of student success teams working more closely at TU.”
While this aspect of TU’s reorganization is apparently inspired by other universities, Clancy proudly asserted, “We’re not like OU and OSU, and we’re not like WashU, either. We’re kind of in between that. … We have excellence in certain areas that universities our size don’t have. … There really is no one like us at all.”
The other two major shifts mentioned in the “Academic Strategy” document involve the shift from departments to “interdisciplinary division[s],” as well as the creation of the new Professional Super College.
Perhaps the changes most noticed by students, however, are the program cuts and changes. A great portion of the program changes affect graduate programs, and as the True Commitment webpage states, “[T]he program prioritization decisions admittedly impact graduate programs more than undergraduate programs.” Clancy reaffirmed this in the Student Forum held on Friday, April 12.
Many undergraduate programs are affected as well, however, including the philosophy and religion majors, which have now been consolidated to a single minor, many of the foreign language minors, most of the music majors and every theater major. Administration has repeatedly stated that these changes won’t affect current, enrolled students at the University of Tulsa, and that each student will have the full support of the university in attaining their degree.
Clancy also clarified that the loss of the theater major won’t necessarily signal the loss of theater on campus. “That’s where over the next five years, we can figure that out. Because I think there’s a lot of different ways we can do this, other than having a major. … [It could be e]xtracurricular, or let’s put it in some of the other classes we have as well. Just because the majors go away doesn’t mean the classes have to go away, and the experiences have to go away. So I’m actually open-minded on what will happen next with the theatrical arts.”
These changes are slated to begin after December 2020, after which incoming freshmen will not be able to enroll in these programs. Administration is also vocal in affirming that the affected programs only account for six percent of the studentry at TU, both for primary and double majors. The Collegian was unable to confirm if this statistic also included program minors.
Following the April 11 announcement of the university’s upcoming changes, community backlash was swift. Students and faculty immediately began planning protest events. That Thursday, flyers appeared around campus, announcing “This is NOT who we are,” with a call to wear black during the week of April 15 – 21 to mourn the lost programs, as well as the announcement of a funeral walk on April 19.
A protest meeting was hosted by students and faculty in Kendall Hall at noon on Friday, April 12, at which students and faculty gave testimonies in the interest of retaining the liberal arts programs planned to be cut at TU.
Student Kara VonWyl detested the changes, saying, “Our loyalty is being thrown out into the streets.”
Visiting assistant philosophy professor Julianne Romanello asked, “I hear they’re going to honor degree programs for incoming freshmen and current students. What’s your degree going to say about you — coming from a university in turmoil, a university that doesn’t know its purpose?”
Following this, on the morning of Friday, April 12, a day after the PPRC’s suggestions were announced, a document penned by philosophy professor Jacob Howland began circulating between student emails. The manifesto, which numbers almost 5,000 words, decries what Howland sees as the corporatization of the University of Tulsa.
The document claims, “Absent a board willing and able to defend our integrity as an academic institution, we have experienced a hostile takeover that has effectively made TU a subsidiary of Tulsa’s biggest charitable foundation and an agent of the city’s corporate interests.” It also criticizes the university’s lack of faculty raises since 2015 and its attachment to the athletics department, which did not undergo any cuts or changes from the PPRC.
The document also criticized the data-gathering methods used by the PPRC, stating that with at least one example of data retrieval, “The PPRC ultimately admitted that it had overstated instructional costs for my department by 40 [percent].” The document also draws comparisons to totalitarianism, explicitly stating at one point, “It is reminiscent of the Stalin’s [sic] extirpation of the peasantry, required to destroy the organic communities that stood as reproach to the depredation of the State.”
According to Clancy, cuts to the athletics department were not viable and “could not be done quickly,” due to contractual obligations with the American Athletic Conference. “We have a long-term obligation to the conference,” Clancy said, “and we can’t leave the conference.”
The PPRC was primarily concerned with academics.
In a statement to The Collegian, Howland claimed, “Clancy and Levit were very surprised at the passionate and intelligent response of the student body to the cuts. The tragedy of this situation is that they failed (or were perhaps unable) to see value in the existing university, and so could not understand why others might value it. Because of this fundamental mistake, their attitude toward our programs, students, and faculty has consistently come across as disdain. I hope we can educate them about the precious resources we have here.”
Romanello also provided a statement, criticizing the transparency of the PPRC’s process and what she interpreted as poor communication with faculty.
“The administration sent faculty periodic email updates about what was in store, but these usually contained exhortations to embrace change, suggestions that the failure to do so would mean the end of TU as we knew it anyway, a summary of the laudable work and credentials of the PPRC, and many quaint reflections on the pleasantries one might experience on any given day at TU,” she said, continuing with, “I was completely shocked to hear the individuals who are charged with the protection of our institution […] deliver their unanimous, market-driven, and ‘data-supported’ (read: blatant falsehood) resolution to preserve the TU brand (read: appearance) by dismantling its substance (read: reality) altogether.”
She also defined the methods by which the decisions were made and their announcements “an injustice.”
Various anonymous faculty sources reached out to The Collegian expressing concern and outrage over the cutting of liberal arts, the efficacy and utility for the university in cutting those programs and the transparency of the PPRC’s data-gathering methods. Other anonymous faculty, however, leaned optimistic toward the new changes, claiming that the PPRC’s methods were more transparent than anything in that vein that the administration has done in the past 30 years and that the changes could lead to more good than bad.
Overarching criticism asserted that the University of Tulsa was gradually shifting away from the liberal arts with the interest of becoming a vocational school. To this end, Clancy responded, “I was a religion and biochemistry major, and it did me very well. … One of our quiet strengths is we’re really good at double majors. … There’s not a phasing-out of liberal arts; we’re not becoming an engineering school.”
Clancy also asserted that the changes coming to campus have come about as a result of the HLC’s accreditation standards, and that rather than corporatization, the changes more accurately reflect organization.
Clancy also stated that while there has been a fair bit of criticism, he has also received compliments from students and staff alike: “I’ve actually received a huge number of very, very positive comments directly from the students saying, ‘This is the right move,’ from the students, and a huge number of very positive comments from the community, too.”
As of yet, the administration has not levied a specific response to Howland’s manifesto, but Clancy did call for a student open forum at the Reynolds Center on the evening of Friday, April 12. Present at the forum were President Clancy, Provost Janet Levit and Dr. Tracy Manly, an accounting professor who served as chair of the PPRC.
When asked what the value of a degree from the University of Tulsa would mean in the wake of a cut program, Levit said, “The value of your degree is the value of a TU degree.”
She also mentioned later on that the PPRC’s data sheets are all available for review in the provost’s office and that very few students have come to look them over. The three on the panel also denied a request to upload the document to the internet, reiterating that the information is available in the provost’s office.
A complete video of the student forum is available on The Collegian’s Facebook page. Following the open forum, Clancy remained on the stadium floor and spoke to students individually for some time.
Prior to the forum, Clancy sent out an email to students that cleared up misconceptions about the PPRC’s decisions, broken up into seven points. These include “the changes reflect TU’s identity,” and a reaffirmation that “the arts and humanities are fundamental to a college experience.”
In his meeting with The Collegian, Clancy also saw the detractors of TU’s reorganization as misinformed and under-read. “They have just jumped to conclusions and used rumor and innuendo, when what we do as a university — we are fact-finders, and the facts are in here [referring to the “Academic Strategy” document],” he said. “This is how it worked; this is what we did; this is how we did it, rather than what’s on Twitter and what’s on Facebook.”
He was adamant that students and faculty familiarize themselves with the “Academic Strategy” document, which is hyperlinked at utulsa.edu/truecommitment.
“The university is financially strong,” Clancy said. “[We have] a $1.1 billion dollar endowment. But when we look to the future, it was very clear that we needed to make some changes.”
Clancy is concerned about the future of universities as institutions, and wants to ensure TU’s continued existence. “As hard as it is,” he said, “this is important for us to take these steps — it really, really is.”
The protests on campus will seemingly go on, and some students are attempting to get the hashtags “#TUReorganization” and “#WeAreTheSixPercent” trending. Online chatter is high and, for the most part, angry. Clancy mentioned at the end of the student forum that there would be more events like it, and that communication between the administration and the studentry would continue. Administration has shown no sign of retracting any of the changes thus far.
These changes, part of TU’s five-year academic plan, will only begin after 2020, and the entire transition will take four to five years. It remains to be seen how permanent the changes will be.
Clancy, as mentioned above, also termed this as the third transformation in TU’s history. “The first,” he explained, “was when we moved from Muskogee to Tulsa. The second was when there was a deep commitment in the early ‘80s when all the other universities moved in to go residential and academic excellence, and this is the third version. I call it ‘TU 3.0.’”
Clancy, and the administration at large, see the changing landscape for higher education and have acknowledged doomsday predictions from respected economists like Harvard’s Clayton Christensen, who posits that half of the higher-learning facilities in the United States will close in the next decade. The coming changes will be made in the interest of braving this theoretical storm.
As Clancy said, “Part of what we’re doing right now is getting ready for this.” It remains to be seen if the changes will ultimately be implemented or if the protests will bear a settlement with the administration.
TU’s performance in the coming years amid the highly-theorized “higher education bubble” also remains to be seen, but Clancy hopes it can hold on. “It’s my stewardship responsibilities to move the university to be able to be strong during that. … If people don’t want to look to the future, that’s fine, but I’m going to look to the future. It’s my job to do this.”