Perhaps it goes without saying, but the environment in which we are operating is anything but business as usual. We are working from home, teaching classes through Collaborate and navigating adjustments – including last week’s difficult decision regarding staff furloughs – in what we need to do and how we need to do it. A business-as-usual approach also isn’t a sufficient response to the challenges we face from COVID-19 and our underlying budget issues. I am so pleased that in these unprecedented times, we are pulling together as a campus despite such strong headwinds. Great progress is being made.
I want to update you on a number of important developments, including:
- A new voluntary early retirement incentive for tenured faculty, similar to that offered in March for staff
- Budget-related solutions from our advisory and working groups
- New online degree programs
- Planning for fall semester
In response to requests and counsel from the Faculty Advisory Review Group composed of members of the Faculty Senate, the administration presented to the board a proposal for an early retirement incentive program for tenured faculty. The board approved the program earlier this month, and details have now been finalized.To be eligible, tenured faculty members must be at least 60 years of age, have a minimum of 10 years of service, and have a combined age and years of service that adds up to at least 75. Tenured faculty members who may be eligible for the early retirement incentive program will receive a separate message with details about participation. Initial decisions must be made by May 11.As you know from the Huron report, the number of students served per instructional staff is significantly less than the average of our peer institutions. While that ratio is an important component of our student-focused approach, we have to anticipate that enrollment will drop due to COVID-19.On a related note, the response to our staff early retirement incentive offer has been positive, with more than 70 percent of eligible individuals expressing interest. If by the end of May these individuals accept the offer, it will play a significant role in helping us meet our expense-reduction targets.Budget Recommendations from Our Advisory and Working GroupsOver the past month, University Council has met weekly to discuss suggestions from our 12 issue-specific working groups and five stakeholder advisory groups. Their hard work and contributions represent shared accountability in action, as does the day-to-day engagement of our faculty and staff to help us achieve our budget goals.
Recommendations that have been agreed to by TU’s leadership team to date include:
- The Campus Security Working Group identified up to $475,000 in savings by replacing the shuttle service with a ride-sharing service as well as staff reductions including eliminating the role of Tulsa Police Department representation on campus.
- The Compensation Working Group identified up to $200,000 in savings through the elimination of noncash compensation (i.e., car leases, university-provided housing, club memberships) in all employment contracts.
- The Technology Working Group identified up to $1 million in savings by enacting a new Computer Standardization Policy and consolidating technology spend.
- The Travel Working Group identified up to $200,000 in savings through clearer documentation required for not using the lowest-cost carrier for travel and a further $100,000 by eliminating sales tax on purchases when employees use their TU purchasing card in 31 states.
Details of these actions as well as information on additional areas for savings will soon be posted under the Shared Accountability section of the Budget Response website. All of these savings, effective in the next calendar year, are on top of the $650,000 in savings announced in my Feb. 27 email. Thank you to the members of these working groups for all their hard work, creativity and problem-solving.Online Degree Programs
We have also made progress toward evolving our academic programs in ways that meet the needs of students and open up potential new revenue sources. In the past few weeks, we launched the marketing and information landing pages for two online programs: a master’s degree in cyber security and an online MBA. The timing of these programs, which will admit new students beginning this fall, could not have been better.
Planning for Fall 2020
The Board of Trustees has requested a contingency plan by May 20 for a potential return to campus. Our newly established Campus Continuity Task Force is working on the plan, and we will share information with our current and incoming students as soon as possible.
This group’s overarching goal is to “pandemic-proof” as much as possible that which is foundational to a TU experience – our academics, our residential life and our co-curricular experiences – while assuring that our students, faculty and staff are safe and healthy. We need to be prepared to offer our students an exceptional educational experience; to be able to pivot between online and on-campus learning environments; and to demonstrate TU’s value as a small, highly (sometimes virtually) connected, student-centered institution.
This task force will address vital questions such as how to deliver academics in a way that honors social distancing, how to offer a vibrant residential campus experience that keeps our students healthy and safe and what types of training and technology are needed to support employees.
All of this is anything but business as usual. In my first communication to you as interim president on Feb. 6, I shared my belief that change is not our enemy; it is our lifeline. Little did I realize only 10 weeks ago how literal this metaphor would become.
Higher education is often criticized as being slow to change. At TU, we’ve demonstrated that when we need to, we can be thoughtful, agile and quick to respond. Thanks to an incredible faculty and staff, this university will emerge in a strong and sustainable position, ready to serve the needs of our students and community for many decades to come.
Janet K. Levit