November Board Update – November 7, 2019

Dear University of Tulsa community,

This letter is written in the spirit of bringing us together and moving forward as the headwinds facing all higher education institutions increase. To be clear, our country’s demographics, education models and job requirements are changing rapidly. These external factors are beyond our control, however we all have a responsibility to respond swiftly and objectively.

The decline in U.S. high school graduates attending college is already taking hold along with a host of alternative avenues for education. Universities must wisely invest their limited resources to distinguish themselves and attract this new version of a student body. TU anticipated these challenges and developed the 2017 – 2022 Strategic Plan, and the companion 2019 True Commitment, to survive – and thrive – in this new economy.

Many of you answered this call for change, and I thank you for the foresight, creativity, innovation and willingness to take the necessary and sometimes uncomfortable actions. For those who are hesitant, I encourage you to review the concerns and familiarize yourself with the strategies articulated in 2017.

Our Strategic Plan, developed by students, faculty, staff, administration and alumni, laid out clear objectives:

  1. Improve student retention and graduation rates
  2. Grow enrollment and improve efficiencies across campus
  3. Review academic programs and create a campus-wide culture of innovation and research
  4. Further develop our outstanding faculty and staff
  5. Advance TU as an intellectual and economic force for Tulsa

In response to Objective 3, we formed the Provost’s Program Review Committee in 2018 and shared its findings as part of the True Commitment plan rollout in April 2019. The faculty members who comprised the committee were asked to be “university first” citizens. They met the challenges with a bold plan that was fully endorsed by the college deans and then unanimously approved by the TU Board of Trustees.

During the past seven months, Provost Levit and I met with faculty, staff, students and alumni who wished to share concerns as well as new ideas. As a result, some changes to the True Commitment plan have been adopted and are documented on the TU website. Task forces also were put in place to address University Studies, the consortium of professional colleges, the Graduate School’s structure and jurisdiction and the transition from departments to divisions.

As mentioned in my September email, the Board of Trustees opened the door for additional feedback from the Faculty Senate. Faculty Senate leaders were given 30 days to provide formal recommendations for improvements to the True Commitment plan. Last Friday and again this week, the board reviewed and discussed proposals from Faculty Senate leadership.

It is important to understand that the Board of Trustees has the fiduciary duty to make decisions in the best interest of the entire university. Input from students, staff, faculty, alumni and administration on the direction of TU is always welcome and is part of shared governance, but the board is charged with making decisions in the best interest of the university. I am thankful for our trustees for their foresight, innovation and strength in making hard decisions.

  • This week, the Board of Trustees confirmed the following regarding the True Commitment plan:
    The established task forces will continue to provide input to the administration and the board. The work is due Jan. 1, 2020, to be able to effect next year’s budget process.
  • The provost and the Deans’ Council will continue to review reports from department chairs regarding factual errors related to the closure of specific academic programs. Factual errors of significance will be considered in deciding whether closed programs should be reopened.
  • Proposals may be made to reopen closed academic programs as new program offerings with reimagined majors and coursework with attention to student success and student recruitment. These reimagined or new programs will move through the established approval process starting with their college. Successfully endorsed proposals will be presented to the Board of Trustees.
  • The Board of Trustees appreciates the creativity and strong focus on student success in some of the proposals that emerged from Faculty Senate leadership. The board anticipates these program ideas will move through the established endorsement process in an expedited manner.
  • Trustees affirmed that the university will continue to implement True Commitment with modification opportunities as described above.
  • The board reaffirmed their full and unqualified confidence in the President, the Executive Vice President for Finance, the Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs – Provost and their respective administrative teams.

Simply put, the board remains resolute in its opinion the recommendations in the Strategic Plan and True Commitment remain our best path forward. While we welcome suggestions for improvement through established pathways, there will be no “repeal” or “rollback” of True Commitment.

As we move forward, let me highlight that The University of Tulsa has many strengths. The joint work of our faculty and students on learning and creating new knowledge is unique among the higher education institutions I have observed. We are small AND a major research institution. We are community minded AND a global university. We strive for each of our students to have a rich foundation and experiences in the liberal arts. The increased focus on student success is working. Our donors understand the financial pressures of students and their families and are responding with unprecedented giving for scholarships and student support.

The Tulsa region provides us with partnerships that distinguish us and offer creative and innovative outlets for our students and faculty. The work of the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities, the Helmerich Center for American Research and Gilcrease Museum along with the TU Law clinics, the TU-Team8 Cyber Fellows program, the partnership with Laureate Institute for Brain Research and the numerous faculty engaged in understanding the 1921 Race Massacre are just a few examples of how TU and Tulsa come together for the betterment of our academic programs and our city.

Our 2017 – 2022 Strategic Plan is moving forward. The True Commitment plan is being executed. Input will continue to be welcomed, received and reviewed. During my report to the board, I also announced that work will soon begin on our next five-year strategic plan. As a community, it is time we further define a future, our future, that is focused on novel approaches to achieve growth, to ensure our future and that will withstand the test of time.


Gerard P. Clancy, M.D.