Approximately one in four students at TU voted on Harvey, with three out of four voting “no confidence.”
Last week, TU’s Student Association (SA) held its annual election; however, alongside the usual Senate election there was another initiative — a no confidence vote in Interim President Janet Levit. The student body of the University of Tulsa voted No Confidence in Provost and Interim President Levit by a margin of 805 to 264, with 1,069 students voting. This number of voters surpasses the 10 percent threshold necessary to make the vote official; approximately one in four students voted with a turnout rate of 26 percent.
In accordance with Article VII of the SA Constitution, TU Students for Responsible Change (SRC) successfully secured the vote through the referendum process. The vote stemmed from a petition that collected almost 400 verified signatures, surpassing the five percent of the student body necessary to pose a Harvey referendum.
Despite the seemingly dismal turnout rate of 26 percent, this vote marks the highest participation rate on record for a student election. SA conducted the digital vote from Wednesday, Feb. 19 to Thursday, Feb. 20 through Harvey alongside their regularly scheduled elections.
Despite a brief concern regarding the validity of the vote which was quelled by SA’s Judicial Council, organizers of the vote described many additional obstacles. During the week, members of SRC advertised the vote with flyers and signs calling for students to vote no confidence in Levit, but in multiple instances the flyers were removed by fellow students, faculty and administration. Students contacted The Collegian with specific evidence of the latter two instances.
On Tuesday, SRC members reported that Vice President of Student Affairs Earl Johnson had taken down no-confidence flyers in Zink Hall on the pretense that they were anonymous. When they brought this additional action up to Mike Mills, the dean responded by email: “the guideline for students/student groups is the information listed in the ‘Statement on Rights, Freedoms, and Responsibilities, Section II. Freedom of Expression, C. Dissemination of Printed Materials’” in the student handbook and that, “[a]dhering to that guideline will ensure that flyers will not be removed or damaged.”
Despite the fact that this rule does not prohibit anonymous flyers, Dean Mills did not specifically address the actions of Vice President Johnson.
On Wednesday, the day voting opened, multiple students (all of whom requested anonymity) contacted The Collegian to report that a tenured professor in Anthropology and previous member of the PPRC was actively and aggressively discouraging their classes from participating in the referendum, as well as encouraging students to tear down flyers and signs. In addition to tearing down a flyer in front of their class, the professor reportedly told their students that they had torn down multiple flyers across campus before coming into class and that “good students should be studying, not holding votes like this.”
When we reached out to the Department of Marketing and Communications, Communications Specialist Gail Ellis presented this statement from the university: “The right of free expression is essential to the learning process and must be protected by all segments of the university community. Student Affairs is currently reviewing its policies regarding the posting of anonymous fliers.”
It is unclear whether this review will result in the change of student policy.
Faculty at TU voted no confidence in then-president Gerard Clancy and Provost Levit in November of last year in a vote sponsored by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). That vote resulted in the Faculty Senate addressing the results in multiple following meetings, and the vote has raised questions of whether SA will follow suit.
When asked for comment regarding the outcome of the vote, SRC responded with, “This vote affirms what the student body has seen since the unveiling of the True Commitment plan on April 11: patterns of incompetence in our university leaders” and that, “It is our sincerest belief that the university must start including students in further policy decisions.”
However, whether there will be any official action from the Student Association’s Senate or Executive is unknown. SA President Maddie Pickett responded to a request for comment with: “SA’s main role in this was facilitating the vote — in terms of action, there isn’t a ‘next step’ other than publishing the results and making them accessible to the public.”
The result of this vote comes in the wake of an announcement from the Board of Trustees to the Faculty Senate regarding the length of Levit’s tenure as Interim President. According to this announcement, the search for a new President will not begin until “our financial situation stabilizes.” It is unclear what constitutes financial stability, or if this student vote will affect this indefinite duration.