Dear University of Tulsa community member,
With the start of fall semester classes just two months away, I wanted to take a moment to bring you up to date on the progress we have made since the beginning of the year toward reshaping our curriculum.
As a brief recap, the university last year convened the faculty-led Provost’s Program Review Committee (PPRC) to undertake, with the support of the academic deans, a review of all academic programs across the institution. Such efforts are a best practice in higher education, and at TU the endeavor was long overdue. Not only had the university been operating, even with a substantial endowment, at a financial loss for a number of years, but the Higher Learning Commission, which accredits institutions of higher education in our region, had identified a number of areas in which TU was falling short. To be clear, The University of Tulsa has full accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission. Yet, our long-term financial health, our continued accreditation and the realities of a tumultuous higher education environment demanded that we find a sounder path moving forward.
Over an eight-month period, the PPRC conducted a rigorous data-driven process to assess our academic enterprise, using data provided and verified by our deans with input from their department heads and faculties. The committee’s recommendations were then approved by Deans’ Council, the provost, president and unanimously by the board in April.
The recommendations include phasing out, over the next five years, lower-enrollment programs in the Colleges of Engineering & Natural Sciences, Business, Law, Arts & Sciences and the Graduate School, as we continue to plan for growth of other programs that are in high demand. To put these changes in perspective, since 2014 the undergraduate programs to be phased out graduated a total of 135 students collectively while some of our largest programs individually graduated 164 (psychology), 298 (finance) and 300 (mechanical engineering) in the same period.
To shape and implement these changes in the best interests of our students, faculty and institution, three university-wide task forces have been created and have begun work. These task forces, made up in large part by residential faculty volunteers representing all areas of our university, will meet throughout the academic year and collaborate closely with the University Council, Faculty Senate and other appropriate committees and governing bodies in order to bring the PPRC recommendations to fruition.
As the details of implementation take shape, it is important to remember that TU is not navigating this territory alone. Our peer institutions from coast to coast share the challenge of adapting to changing demographics, disruptive technologies and new marketplace demands in ways that ensure fidelity to the educational mission while remaining relevant and competitive in the decades ahead. Sadly, numerous, albeit smaller, colleges had to shut their doors in the past few years before they could successfully adapt.
At TU, we are fortunate to have significant strengths upon which to build:
- Our $1.1 billion endowment, which gives us a financial security that many of our peer institutions can only envy (It is important to understand, however, that the endowment is a collection of individual funds established by donors for specific purposes, such as named scholarships and faculty positions. The university spends only the earnings on the endowment, and only on the things originally agreed upon with our donors.)
- Our 125-year history of service to our region, and the reputation our faculty, staff, alumni and students have earned as a university of high academic achievement
- Our diversity of academic programming, which ensures that we are not overly reliant financially on any one school, college or program
- Our dedicated faculty, staff and loyal alumni
These strengths give us the ability and confidence to make bold changes. We recognize that the curriculum revision before us will impact all of us in varying ways and requires more of some than of others. However, updating our curriculum is neither radical nor irresponsible.
Some of you may have heard concerns that students will no longer be able to study the arts and humanities. TU remains committed to the liberal arts, and Henry Kendall College will continue to offer 25 bachelor’s degrees, eight graduate degrees, five unique minors and one certificate firmly rooted in the college’s sciences, arts and humanities. None of our distinguished arts and sciences faculty members are losing their positions, and all will continue to teach. We recognize that a solid grounding in these arts, sciences and humanities is essential for every student, and we remain committed to our Tulsa Curriculum and the broad-based liberal arts foundation that has been the hallmark of TU for decades.
You may also have heard that TU is becoming a “trade school” or that TU degrees will no longer be recognized by other universities. These are not realistic concerns. Schools such as Rice University and Washington University in St. Louis have offered innovative majors for decades, while many dozens of respected schools allow students to design their own majors, double majors and minors. We also promote double majors and minors and offer opportunities for students to design their own major. In addition to providing a rounded, liberal arts education, TU is committed to ensuring that our students graduate with the skills, experience and knowledge that Oklahoma and our country need to compete in the 21st century.
For academia, disruptions of the type that we face today are new. Colleges and universities have been uniquely shielded from many of the seismic transformations that have roiled healthcare, journalism, retail enterprises and countless other sectors of the economy during recent decades.
We appreciate the widespread support and feedback we have received for the important endeavor we are undertaking. We also understand and hear the concerns shared by some faculty, students and alumni, especially in the disciplines most impacted by these changes. Our hope is that through continued dialogue and engagement in the committee processes put in place, those who may be skeptical of the changes that lie ahead will play a part in helping improve and strengthen our approach and its implementation. Together, we must all build on what works best for our students, now and in the future, and ensure that TU remains an excellent university for many more generations.
Gerard P. Clancy, M.D.