The Academic Strategy for The University of Tulsa

The following section contains the presentation to faculty and staff by Janet K. Levit, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at The University of Tulsa, on April 11, 2019.

I want to start by saying thank you. Thank you for supporting our students. Thank you for supporting our assessment efforts. Thank you for supporting me. Thank you for doing all of this over the course of what has been a productive year in support of our future. It is an honor to be part of The University of Tulsa family.

Today, we have a compelling purpose as well as direction for change at TU. It is an affirmation of our five-year strategic plan and a reminder we are on the right path. Great work is taking place and we are far from the university we were just 12 months ago.

As the saying goes, “Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.”

The plan we are sharing today (April 11, 2019) defines the framework and necessary steps to continue on our path to achieve the bold vision detailed in our strategic plan. It will change our world and has the potential to change the world of many others.

If everyone on TU’s campus approaches this moment with an open mind, then all should recognize there is much here that is exciting. There is much to embrace. There is much that should have been done years ago that makes so much sense.

Will some of these recommendations require that we make changes to our jobs, our academic units or even colleges?

Yes. Here, change is our lifeline.

The University of Tulsa’s Identity

One of the most important contributions the Provost’s Program Review Committee (PPRC) made is to gather the data that reveals clearly who we are. For too long, we have tried to be everything to everyone. We have been spread too thin and, in many cases, have not been able to achieve excellence as a result.

Today, we stake our identity. We are saying it out loud and acknowledging to ourselves what the data – and our students’ choices – have pointed to for so long:

The University of Tulsa is a high-touch undergraduate institution that provides all students with a firm grounding in critical and creative thinking, and that is STEM-heavy with a professional, practical focus.

Our research mission and our graduate footprint remain important. Although we are not a comprehensive research institution, we will support graduate programs that align with our strategic direction and our unwavering commitment to our students’ success.

This is who we are. The plan we present to the TU campus today aligns our academic footprint and resources to support and strengthen this identity.

Student Success at TU’s Forefront

Over spring break, my husband and I took my daughter on a college visit trip to eight campuses in five days. We sat through information sessions at schools that are TU’s peers or aspirants, and the focus at each institution was student success. Indeed, most of the sessions took place in the heart of their student success centers, and the schools trumpeted their impressive list of services, including retention and four-year graduation rates.

If we are going to remain competitive for the students of today, and the students of tomorrow, we must do better in supporting our students’ success.

I want to take a moment to elaborate on the recently announced Student Success Center the TU board of trustees approved in February 2019. We already offer many support services to students, and I am grateful for the work of so many on this campus. However, we often designed student services from the vantage point of what was easiest for us as TU employees rather than from the vantage point of students.

For too long we under-invested in student support because we over-invested in merit aid for high-ACT scores, all in pursuit of elusive US News ranking goals. As a result, most of these support services have also been physically scattered across campus.

Under the umbrella of a new TU Student Success Center, housed in Hardesty Hall, we will bring the most critical student services under one roof, knocking down silos while streamlining and enhancing our current levels of support for our students. This one-stop-shop approach has made a positive impact at other universities, and we already see the benefits of student success teams working more closely at TU. This chart demonstrates how students can get involved on campus and how the student success center will be there to help them along the way

Central to this idea is that our ownership of our students’ success begins the moment students deposit with the admissions office. At this point, incoming students will be matched with student success coaches, and our admissions counselors will let go of their prospects to start focusing on the next incoming class. Beyond academic assistance to help our students align their academic trajectory with their strengths and long-term goals, the student success center will be a hub for health and wellness as well as financial and career planning.

We are revamping the first-year-experience class in fall 2019 and piloting it in Engineering and Natural Sciences. This class will integrate critical elements of student success with the freshman academic experience. Students will intentionally develop their four-year academic, financial and long-term professional plans. It is our hope the pilot will expand across campus in fall 2020.

The Student Success Center is a huge milestone in support of our strategic plan objectives to increase student four-year graduation rates and increase retention rates.

Thank you to John Bury and his extraordinary team on their efforts to date.

Provost Program Review Committee: The Process

As an institution, we have operated our academic programs under a philosophy of “build it and they will come.” That philosophy has not borne fruit in many cases. Not for a lack of effort, but because of changing demographics; because of our structure and design; because we lacked a clear identity; and because, for many years, we lacked a strategic compass. Nearly one year ago to date, the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) site team forced us to take a hard look in the mirror.

When Tracy Manly introduced these PPRC recommendations to the Deans’ Council on February 22, 2019, I framed the conversation by noting last year’s HLC site visit was one of the most fortuitous moments in our institution’s history. The visit highlighted the connection between our lack of systematic assessment and our financial pressures. The HLC forced us to confront our unsustainable academic and financial trajectory. Who knows what would have happened if we kept our head in the sand for any longer. We simply weren’t doing what any healthy institution needs to do: innovate, evaluate, adjust and then innovate again.

Thanks to TU’s board of trustees leadership, to our endowment and to the willingness of so many to roll up their sleeves.

The HLC gave us a lifeline in two forms. First, due to the work of so many on this campus, we prevailed in August 2018 in proving our compliance with HLC standards, and our follow-up work is now a written report on our general curriculum and assessment in December 2020.

Second, unlike schools prominent in the higher-ed headlines, such as Hampshire College, we have a $1.1 billion endowment.

I’m grateful for the work of the PPRC . They have, by some estimations, collectively worked more than 10,000 hours, and each member has become a true expert in understanding how academic resources are deployed and allocated. We have just witnessed shared governance like this university has not seen since I arrived in 1995.

The PPRC example sets the standard for what we have coined “well-informed shared governance.” The PPRC members are true university citizens, setting aside their own preferences or biases and, instead, creating an objective way to evaluate all of our programs with a focus on doing what is best for our students and what is best for our university.

In more than one case, a member of the PPRC recommended closures or consolidations of programs they were directly involved in. With a university-first commitment, an agreement they made to each other at the onset of this work, they have done something that is a rarity in higher education.

No politics. No sacred cows. Only what was best for our students and the future of TU.

When we write the history of TU a decade or two from now, this group of faculty will be the unsung heroes of our story. They embraced this moment. They ran toward, not away from, change. Our university will again thrive due to their selfless efforts. The PPRC’s leadership and commitment is nothing short of spectacular.

Provost Program Review Committee Recommendations

On April 17, 2018, when I first addressed the faculty, even before I formally became provost, but following receipt of the HLC initial recommendation, I shared a Willem de Kooning quote I love: “I have to change to stay the same.”

If we want to protect the TU secret sauce, we all need to change. And change starts today.

The PPRC’s recommendations fell into three buckets. First, program priorities were outlined by conducting in-depth program-by-program reviews against the criteria that were delineated. The PPRC recommended for each of the more than 200 programs at TU that certain programs grow, make major programmatic shifts, consolidate and/or close. The second bucket contains university-wide policies regarding how we deploy our resident faculty resources. The third bucket, the most exciting to all who have seen their work, is a reimagining of the academic footprint at TU. The Report on Academic Strategies based on the findings from the PPRC will be available to the entire university community online following this presentation.

The PPRC, the Deans’ Council, the president and the board of trustees unequivocally endorse the PPRC’s recommendations, including consolidation and closure of programs. On April 10, 2019, the board of trustees unanimously approved the PPRC’s plan. The work of this faculty committee is now the academic roadmap to our future.

Before we review our programmatic decisions, I want to underscore that we are upholding all our commitments to resident faculty. We are not eliminating tenured or tenure-track faculty positions, and we stand by our current contractual obligations to our resident contract faculty.

We met with faculty who are impacted by these changes to share with them what you are about to read. I’m grateful for their support of the greater purpose. With rare exception, there was understanding and support.

These changes are about reprioritizing and reallocating our resources to support those programs with the greatest demand, which will have the greatest opportunity for success as we navigate into uncharted higher-ed terrain. The PPRC simply acknowledged and acted upon what our students have been trying to tell us for years. In most cases, our students have already voted with their feet.

Program Priority Decisions

The rationale behind the decisions is detailed in the program review summaries that the PPRC generated for each academic unit. In the name of transparency, deans will deliver respective data sheets to department chairs this afternoon. Additionally, the program priority summaries for each academic unit are now available for TU faculty and staff to review, just as the data the measurement summaries have been available for campus review since January 2019.

Again, although these changes may feel significant, if implemented immediately they would impact only the degrees of 6% of our total graduate and undergraduate student population. These changes will not be implemented immediately. They will be phased in over time, as we are fully committed to teaching out our current students.

For any student who arrives this fall, they may enroll in any program that we have held out as available through the admissions process. In time, this academic restructuring will allow us to deploy resources more effectively, to better promote interdisciplinary work, to free resources to invest to strengthen and to grow remaining programs and to support faculty development.

Program Closures and Consolidations

The program closures and consolidations have been the subject of much speculation for the better part of this academic year. Yet, the PPRC’s program review is much broader and more constructive than simply identifying programs for elimination.

The PPRC assessed each university program against the PPRC’s criteria, which included a review of each program’s relevance to the mission and strategic plan, enrollment trajectory, financial sustainability, student outcomes, scholarship and community engagement. The results of the reviews include not only the closures I shared, but also more than 50 specific suggestions on how university programs can become more effective and efficient. The PPRC also identified approximately 12 programs and units for close monitoring and re-assessment on a short time schedule.

Based on the data, the PPRC identified over 15 current programs primed for growth and expansion, including undergraduate programs in speech pathology, neurosciences, biochemistry, bioinformatics and biomedical engineering. They identified master’s programs in industrial-organizational psychology, speech pathology and engineering. Independent of this PPRC review, leadership and the board are looking to invest in developing online adult learners, particularly in our graduate business suite of programs, and we are always looking for opportunities to grow into this important adult learner space.

Graph showing the planned growth at The University of Tulsa
The assumption that stood behind all of the PPRC’s work is that our resident faculty is our most valuable asset to meet our strategic goals and to support the needs and desires of our students. As the PPRC looked closely at the data sitting behind their recommendations, they noticed vast differences college-to-college and even department-to-department in base teaching loads, in how colleges used unfunded course releases, in the student credit hours per faculty member, in minimum class sizes and other metrics. Thus, the PPRC recommended, and the president and board of trustees approved, university-wide policies to provide transparent and consistent rules for deans to follow and to answer baseline questions that have eluded us for years. University-wide policies and smarter deployment of our resident faculty will allow us to refocus some faculty teaching resources in support of our undergraduates, particularly during their critical freshman and sophomore years.

Additionally, the program prioritization decisions admittedly impact graduate programs more than undergraduate programs. When we accept and reflect upon who we are, and who we are not, we are predominantly an undergraduate institution. Under the past two administrations, we started down the path toward becoming a comprehensive graduate institution, yet lacked a strong compass and deliberate analysis of costs to guide faculty resources and graduate stipends.

Acknowledging that TU is not a comprehensive research university is not synonymous with backing away from research. Our commitment to research, both to our faculty and our students, is unwavering. It is part of our secret sauce. This research elevates our institution as prospective students and donors consider whether to choose TU.

Although we are fortunate to have a deep history of funded research, as evidenced in our consortia-based research on North Campus, it has also become clear that there are many places across this university where top-notch international research is taking place, often quietly and with faint recognition. We have Guggenheim award winners on this campus, we have multiple National Science Foundation grant winners and we have faculty publishing in the top journals in their fields. Each academic year, our faculty publish books with the most prominent academic presses, and we include students in this research through the Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge (TURC), our journals and other research programs. We need to make sure our research and scholarship is honored, recognized, propagated and connected to our students, both undergraduate and graduate. At the recommendation of the Research Task Force, I’m pleased to announce the addition of a vice provost for research. This will be a Chapman-funded position, meaning it will not hit our operating budget. We will begin the search right away.

The Future of TU

Returning to the PPRC’s work, we just reviewed our program priority decisions and mentioned some new university-wide policies that will take effect as soon as practical. I want to shift gears to discuss an exciting new vision for TU’s academic footprint going forward.

University Studied at the Henry Kendall College of Arts & Sciences

After analyzing the data and removing some of the academic overgrowth of the past two decades, the PPRC recognized significant unrealized academic potential that the committee hoped to help unleash. In developing an intimate understanding of academics at TU, the PPRC saw a path to a flourishing tomorrow and boldly reimagined the academic footprint of academics at TU.

Although the data collection and analysis behind the PPRC’s program prioritization work is thick, impressive and absolutely necessary, it was the boldness of their revisioning work that lit up all those who have seen it thus far. These recommendations, like the program priorities and university policies have been wholly endorsed and approved by the board of trustees, the president and the Deans’ Council. Although some details have yet to be resolved, and while many of you will be involved in mapping our path from here to there, I am proud and excited to present to you all TU’s new academic footprint.

This reimagination is rooted in three major shifts:

  • First, the establishment of “university studies” within Henry Kendall College as a common entry point for all undergraduates.
  • Second, embrace an interdisciplinary structure within Engineering and Natural Sciences and Henry Kendall College (arts and sciences).
  • Third, a combining of our professional colleges under a common umbrella, which we have been referring to as the “Professional College.”

Along with other initiatives focused on student success, these changes represent a fundamental transformation in the way TU engages with our incoming students as they navigate the transition to university life. This reimagining also ensures that resident faculty teach and support our undergraduates early in their four-year trajectory, while also streamlining administrative structures to free resources that can be used to enhance our students’ experience in the classroom and beyond.


This circle chart demonstrates how the student success center will be the foundation of the undergraduate student experience

University Studies

University Studies is the boldest move in our academic reimagining, creating a consistent academic entry point for all undergraduate students. Our students will no longer enroll in a college upon matriculation. Instead, they will all enter through University Studies. Placing University Studies into our reorganized Henry Kendall College celebrates our roots and our strength at TU.

Truly, this is a home where our undergraduates will focus on the Tulsa Curriculum requirements and take advantage of those special opportunities that a high-touch, undergraduate-focused institution offers its students. University Studies will house not only our Tulsa Curriculum; it will also house those unique ingredients in our secret sauce, such as Global Scholars, President’s Leaders Fellowship, Honors, the Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge, the first-year experience class and anything else we design for our students’ benefit.

The nickname for University Studies within the PPRC was the “College of Retention,” as the committee found through their study of the data how the initial college enrollment decision of a 17-year-old at the end of the senior year of high school could make or break (more often than we would like to admit – break) their college experience. University Studies is the academic analog to the Student Success Center and will be designed to assure that our strongest resident faculty teach our undergraduates from their first day of class.

From University Studies, each undergraduate will choose a major (or majors) in three colleges – Henry Kendall College, Engineering and Natural Sciences or the Professional College.

Henry Kendall College

The PPRC recognized that academic departments were relatively small and, in some cases, offering similar permutations of upper-level courses to very few students, particularly in Henry Kendall College of Arts and Sciences. To address this, 15 current departments in Henry Kendall College of Arts and Sciences will become three divisions that are largely along broader disciplinary lines, including art and media, humanities and the social sciences. This near-term consolidation will alleviate financial pressures through administrative savings and streamline upper-level course offerings.

Biological science will return to its original home as soon as practical in order to position Henry Kendall College for interdisciplinary work of the next order.

This initial consolidation from department to disciplinary division is only an interim step. In order to unleash a vast potential of interdisciplinary teaching and research – potential that many universities are already harnessing – the current Arts and Sciences faculty, plus the biological science faculty, will re-organize into four divisions that address cross-cutting contemporary issues; for example, humanities and social justice; human biology and behavior; and ecology, environment and sustainability. This is the type of modernization that objective three of the strategic plan called for in October 2017. It will help faculty respond nimbly to changing needs and priorities of the student population and support interdisciplinary flexibility in both teaching and research.

This chart explains the suggested new divisions for the TU College of Engineering and Natural Sciences

Engineering and Natural Sciences

Although its departments are larger than many Arts and Sciences departments, Engineering and Natural Sciences will also consolidate 10 departments into four divisions. As it stands, the Engineering and Natural Sciences divisions will retain their disciplinary orientation.

Next year’s PPRC will consider whether Engineering and Naturals Sciences’ divisions should further evolve to assume a more contemporary, interdisciplinary bent, like its Arts and Sciences counterpart.

A chart of the recommended new divisions for the Professional College

Professional College

President Clancy opened the 2017 strategic plan with the following mantra: jobs as central to life. TU has numerous professional programs that support the strategic plan’s focus on pragmatic, professional training. Yet, many of these programs have not yet reached their potential in terms of growth and relevance for tomorrow’s economy. The PPRC’s data review reveals that law and health sciences each account for less than 10% of degrees TU grants in any particular year. The administrative structures supporting each of these colleges, two of which are smaller than some departments in Engineering and Natural Sciences, not only weigh on TU’s financial resources, but also create silos that impede effective growth and impactful innovation.

The Professional College will bring our professional colleges under one umbrella. At a minimum, the Professional College will involve a tight sharing of administrative functions in the name of efficiency and effectiveness. Even more visionary, and an analog of the interdisciplinary shifts in Arts and Sciences and Engineering and Natural Sciences, we envision an academic consolidation into an autonomous unit with a strong leader to support academic synergies and streamline administrative functions.

TU Reimagined

We have reimagined academics at TU, and this plan is exciting and energizing. We have not yet answered all of the outstanding questions, nor have we mapped out the nitty gritty of how to get from here to there. Our implementation timeline, as well as our board’s, is an aggressive two years.

A chart showing the strategy plan timeline since June 2018

I am thankful to TU’s deans, Jim Sorem, Kalpana Misra, Robin Ploeger, Larry Wofford and Lyn Entzeroth, for lending thousands of hours of their faculty members’ time to the PPRC, for their embrace of our new tomorrow and for their leadership in getting to where we are today and where we will be a year from now.

When the PPRC revealed its work to the Deans’ Council and the president in February 2019, we immediately split into working groups to focus on implementation of the plan. We currently have working groups looking at University Studies, at the shift from academic department to interdisciplinary division and at the Professional College. We will add members to each of these working groups as we dig into the challenges and complexities of implementation, and we encourage those of you who are earnestly interested in asking “how” to volunteer.

We anticipate that this summer and the next academic year we will focus on planning, with the frequent convening of the working groups to identify opportunities to improve upon the plan presented today and to address questions and issues that will need to be resolved prior to implementation.

Year two will focus on implementing the changes, while always refining in the name of continuous improvement.

Meanwhile, opportunities for immediate change will not be delayed as we identify them.

Reaffirming Commitments

I want to reaffirm and provide greater context to a point made earlier. TU is about commitment, and we are going to support and sustain our commitment first and foremost to our students. Any program that exists today, whether undergraduate or graduate, will be allowed to matriculate students in the fall. And we are committed to teaching out those students until they earn their degrees. We will be communicating these changes to our students and prospective students.

We also have outstanding commitments to our tenured, tenure-track and resident contract faculty, which we will honor.

Retirement Incentive for Tenured Faculty

We appreciate and value our tenured faculty for their years of dedication. We are aware that for some, the expectations and change will feel dramatic and perhaps even traumatic. We are also announcing an optional early retirement program for tenured faculty who are at least 60 years old, who have been at TU for at least 10 years and whose age and length of service add up to at least 75 years. Additional information about eligibility and the terms of the program will be distributed.

TU Staff

This is a robust plan that dramatically alters our structure, breaks down silos that have existed for decades and improves the way we operate. As the president stated in his opening remarks, our business model is unsustainable. We must change to preserve our university. We are shifting, and have been for the past year, from a university that operated much like a “mom and pop shop” to a high-performing institution.

To effectively make this shift, we must analyze and scrutinize all of our administrative and staff functions, and will continue to do so on an ongoing basis. High-performing institutions are comprised of high-performing people who we can build upon and are committed to our new future. I am confident that we will find a place in our new structure for everyone who rises to this challenge. Our future is very much in our hands, and in your hands, as we identify ways to become more effective, efficient and attractive to the student of tomorrow.

In Conclusion

I recognize there will be questions stemming from today’s announcements. Gerry and I will attend the Faculty Senate meeting tomorrow, and we will schedule additional meetings before the end of the semester. We have provided answers to our most frequently asked questions. You may also submit additional questions by completing the form below. I will also hold open forums with faculty and staff from all colleges today and tomorrow. I pledge to be open and honest, and will follow up with any information that is not at my fingertips. I request that you have an open mind and civility in discourse.

As I wrap up, I wish to pinpoint again what is extraordinary about this moment. First and foremost, the faculty members comprising the PPRC dared to go big. The PPRC’s vision is bold for TU and would be extremely bold for many universities. Some changes that feel bold to us, like University Studies, simply brings us into alignment with other private universities. In others cases, such as our approach to interdisciplinary and professional studies, we will be ahead of the curve.

A quick perusal of the higher education clips almost any day of any week shows that we are not the only university implementing change to ensure its future. What makes the PPRC-driven decisions unique is they were not top down. They grew from a representative group of faculty from across the university, who dug deep into the data and spent countless hours debating and carefully crafting a roadmap for TU’s future. The PPRC is a model of shared governance at an unprecedented level, at least in the 24 years I have been a member of the TU faculty. The PPRC did not produce some long report following months or years of deliberation just to have administrators read it and say “not now” or “when there are resources” or “that’s nice” and then do their own thing. The PPRC produced a set of recommendations, uncontrovertibly supported by evidence, that became the basis for decisive presidential and board of trustees action. The PPRC models what well-informed shared governance looks like, and it is a model that we will strive to replicate across the university.

One early, cool morning last September, I had the opportunity to join the women’s rowing team during a practice. While in the launch, I was able to see up close what it feels like when everyone is rowing in the exact same direction and at the exact same time. It is the same feeling I have when working with our board of trustees, the executive team, groups such as the PPRC, the Student Success Task Force, Tulsa Curriculum Review Committee, University Council, Research Task Force, the University Assessment Committee, the Staff Advisory Council and other formal and informal collaborative efforts across campus.

For those focused on our future and on the work at hand, we are rowing hard and in unison. Some of us may be pros, while some may be new and just finding their sea legs. The water may be choppy at times, but we are rowing, all while finding new ways to improve performance.

I am 100% confident that we are rowing in the right direction. I feel light and energized by our future. Without hesitation, the plan detailed today is our path to a golden future.

To every member of our community, the hard work now begins. I encourage you to jump in a shell and row with us.