I am writing to follow up on the Thursday morning announcement regarding new student success initiatives and academic program changes at The University of Tulsa. Thank you to those who reached out to me with words of encouragement, as well as concern.
Much thought was put into the information conveyed at the town hall meeting, and a mountain of details is available on our website with full explanation of the plan, but there still seems to be a fair amount of incorrect information circulating. I’d like to clear that up so we can move forward and address new questions.
First and foremost, any student enrolled in a program slated for closure will have the support and opportunity to graduate with that degree. We are fully committed to our students. All of these changes are focused on student success, which strengthens our university. These programs will not close until all currently enrolled students, and incoming fall 2019 freshmen and graduate students, have graduated. For undergraduate programs, this means there will likely be a five-year phase out of the impacted degree programs. For graduate programs, the timeline for winding down will vary depending on the needs of each program. Regardless, every student – current or incoming this fall – will have the opportunity to earn their degree. I want to ensure there is a complete and clear understanding of our commitment.
Second, the recommendations came from faculty – some of whom have been teaching at TU for decades and all of whom put the best interests of the university ahead of their own self-interests. I cannot adequately express my respect for the Provost’s Program Review Committee members who dedicated 10 months and thousands of hours to this exhaustive process. They gathered important data, asked good questions and, in some instances, even recommended the phase out of lagging degree programs in their own departments – all for the good of the university.
Third, the changes reflect TU’s identity. The PPRC gave us a gift by holding up a mirror, and we have no plans to change who we are. With 40 percent of our students enrolled in the College of Engineering & Natural Sciences, it’s hard to argue that TU isn’t STEM-heavy. More than 40 percent of our student body also resides in the business, health and law colleges, making our professional focus also quite evident. We want to support all students with adequate resources.
Fourth, the arts and humanities are fundamental to a college experience. Possessing a well-rounded education is important whether you’re an engineer, an accountant, a nurse or a musician. TU is committed to equipping every student with critical- and design-thinking skills; fostering creativity and innovation; and supporting programs that make our world a safer, healthier place. Even though some degrees will not be available in the future, classes in those disciplines will still be offered through in support of academic goals, including through the Tulsa Curriculum.
Fifth, being everything to everyone is a lofty goal, but it is also unsustainable. In the past, the University allowed the addition of new degree programs without evaluation, and then permitted those programs to continue without careful consideration of whether those programs were attractive to students or aligned with the mission of the University. Unfortunately, now we see the result of that inaction. By taking bold steps today, and committing to regular continuous improvement, we will not be in this situation again. These changes allow us to remain in good standing with the Higher Learning Commission.
Sixth, TU is fully accredited by the HLC and on solid financial ground. Our endowment stands at over $1.1 billion and our bond debt is the lowest it’s been in 20 years. The changes being made with ensure a strong foundation for the future. TU’s administration and Board of Trustees are in complete agreement with the PPRC recommendations and the decisions announced Thursday.
Seventh, there is so much to like about the reimagining of TU. University Studies will be a new launchpad to support first-year students. The Student Success Center will improve graduation rates and enhancing career services. We are moving from siloed departments to interdisciplinary divisions and consolidating three professional-focused colleges under one umbrella. I look forward to executing this transformation quickly to positively impact as many students as possible.
If you haven’t already done so, I ask that you review all of the information related to the announcement, which can be found at utulsa.edu/truecommitment. I am grateful that we are able to have candid, productive conversations about issues that affect the future of our university.
Gerard Clancy, M.D.