The administrative aspect of True Commitment

Dr. Gerard Clancy and Janet Levit were the foremost faces behind refashioning TU, but the story extends before and after April 11th.

In 2017, the University of Tulsa selected Gerard Clancy as its next president. Clancy’s initial role in Tulsa was as the president of OU-Tulsa, working specifically with increasing the campus’s community engagement programs. His background featured multiple administration positions, though he began as a medical doctor and professor. With the aid of a $50 million donation from the Kaiser Family Foundation, he was instrumental in constructing medical programs at OU-Tulsa, and was also the foremost proponent of creating the College of Health Sciences at TU. Janet Levit followed a different track to power, beginning as a professor in the college of law, then making her way through the ranks at TU until being selected as provost.

During 2018, the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) sent a team of investigators to perform a mandatory evaluation of TU’s status in relation to HLC guidelines. The Higher Learning Commission is an institution that lends credence and accreditation to institutions they have verified as in compliance with various regulations, with the aim of producing a successful educational environment with balanced shared governance between faculty and administration. The report of that evaluation indicated TU was failing to comply in several key areas, which necessitated the continued monitoring of TU’s progress or lack thereof in remedying these breaches. If TU failed to change their conduct, the university’s accreditation could have been suspended or revoked. Issues with shared governance, an inability to phase out programs except through attrition and the lack of a mechanism for program review drew the eyes of the HLC and featured heavily in the report.

The report was sent to TU in April 2018, and after receiving the Higher Learning Commission’s report, it would rarely leave Levit’s office. Faculty members that were interested in reading the report would have to visit Levit’s office in person — no electronic copies were allowed — and were required to remain in the same room as Levit while perusing the document. To this day, the only public information available from this report comes from the original True Commitment planning statements, which quote the HLC’s report as justification for the program eliminations.

TU, like many other collegial institutions, ran at a large deficit, with a multitude of low-enrollment programs demanding portions of the budgetary pie. The Provost’s Program Review Committee (PPRC) recruited select individuals to their ranks. This committee set out to apply the requests submitted by the HLC and develop a new organizational plan for the future. Notably, this committee’s place is itself an oddity in the realm of university administration. Other universities utilize a program review process already entrenched in their academic structure. Instead of lying as an administrative branch, this group would operate under the provost’s jurisdiction and power. In short, it was an ad hoc committee that required no faculty oversight. Members of this committee were also required to sign non-disclosure agreements surrounding the information gathered, proposed plans and other facets of their work. The final plan composed by this committee, True Commitment, was approved by the Board of Trustees before April 11th.

Faculty and staff were notified of a general meeting that week, with those whose programs would be cut receiving calls the day of to meet before the general staff meeting to discuss the changes. If a faculty member was teaching a class at the time, they weren’t involved in the announcement of the program. Some students posited that the April release was tactically placed near exams to prevent students from focusing on these budget cuts.

In the document itself, the critical information that guided the PPRC’s decision-making process was covered up by boxes that claimed the data was too sensitive to reveal. However, not showing the data due to propriety did not satisfy a portion of faculty, who wished to be more involved in the process and understand the reasoning behind these massive restructurings. The opaqueness of these changes led to confusion, outrage and eventual despair from both the faculty and student body. One email from Dr. Jacob Howland preserved on illustrates this. Howland had reached out to the HLC for information regarding the report, and Howland’s interactions seemed to have incited a feeling of confusion, because the HLC appeared to believe that the university would have shared the information with the faculty. The HLC believed Howland’s request for TU to publicize the document was reasonable. The email states that there is no reason for the provost to hide that information, but the provost’s office continued to insist on their protection of the document.

The perceived lack of transparency coincided with a notion that the plan would not actually save the university all that much money. One internal estimate claimed that the plan would reduce the overall budget by four million dollars over five years. The primary cost of an institution lies in its salaried employees, and while True Commitment promised to cut programs, it did not outright fire or remove faculty. The apparent inconsistencies fueled staff speculation. From the faculty’s point of view, this program utilized a limited number of committee members to facilitate the creation of a plan locked behind legal contracts that fundamentally reshaped the face of TU.

During the fall semester following True Commitment’s announcement, TU’s faculty passed a vote of no confidence in both Clancy and Levit. At the end of January 2020, President Clancy resigned effective immediately, citing health concerns, with then-Provost Levit stepping in as Interim President. Brad Carson was announced as the next full president of TU in the spring of 2021. Clancy accepted another job teaching at a university in Iowa. Levit, on the other hand, merely shifted out of the Interim President’s seat, taking a year-long paid sabbatical and will return to TU as a law professor in the fall of 2022. With Brad Carson taking the presidential seat and George Justice set on beginning his provost duties this summer, the two primary administrative positions are filled and the primary restructuring of True Commitment remains unfulfilled.

Post Author: Adam Walsh