Higher Education

| June 26, 2017

OU Regents raise tuition, increase salaries after Boren’s ‘dead last’ claim

In rapid-fire succession last week, University of Oklahoma officials lamented poor state funding for higher education, raised tuition for all students, and increased the pay for some faculty members by as much as 59 percent.

“We face a very, very difficult situation,” OU President David Boren said at the outset of his budget proposal at the June 20 meeting of the OU Board of Regents. “As you read in the papers this week, the headlines screamed out that Oklahoma has now achieved another ranking as dead last in the nation. We were already dead last in common education, now we’re officially dead last in what we spend as a state in higher education as well.”

Boren was referring to a June 16 story by Kathryn McNutt in The Oklahoman headlined “Oklahoma last in nation in funding for higher education.” On June 22, The Oklahoman issued a “clarification” of McNutt’s story on the lower-left corner of page 2A.

The difference between a retraction and a clarification, McNutt told CIJ, turns on whether the facts of an article are false (retraction) or if the wording of an article gives readers a false impression of what those facts mean (clarification).

“I could have certainly used better wording,” McNutt said. “If all you did was read the headline and the first few paragraphs, you could have certainly thought that we were saying Oklahoma is last in funding for higher education.”

Instead, a study on which McNutt based the story “actually says that in raw dollars, Oklahoma is 31st in (state-appropriated) funding,” she said.

Boren made the claim to the OU regents that Oklahoma was “officially dead last” in appropriated funding for higher education. He quoted McNutt’s article in support of a $2.06 billion budget he proposed for fiscal year 2018.

“That’s why we (The Oklahoman) wanted to issue the clarification,” McNutt said. While she stands behind the facts of her article, McNutt told CIJ, she regrets that it was used to support a misleading claim. McNutt said she had data showing that for the five fiscal years spanning 2012 to 2017, state funding for higher education was cut in Oklahoma more than in any other state.

In a subsequent article, published on Sunday, June 25 under the headline “Oklahoma policy group challenges move to raise tuition,” she quoted OCPA president Jonathan Small saying that tuition hikes are not necessary to balance university budgets.

After Boren’s claim to the regents that Oklahoma ranks last in appropriated higher education funding, he laid out his reasons why tuition should be raised 5 percent for resident students, 6.5 percent for nonresidents, and 4.3 percent for graduate students.

“We’ve been taking every possible step to balance the budget without resorting to tuition and fee increases,” Boren said. “Which, as others have said, is our last choice when it comes to balancing the budget.”

He said OU’s proposed balanced budget was based on some $20 million in cost savings.

“The budget does provide for increase in tuition for residents and nonresident students. That’s always a painful step to take, but we simply cannot maintain the excellence that we now have, and it’s another reason we have to turn around and start reinvesting in higher education,” he said.

In addition to pushing for tuition and fee increases, Boren asked the regents to approve pay raises for dozens of professors and staff. Many raises outlined in the agenda were for more than $10,000. Some were greater than 20 percent.

Bruno Barboza and Xinyu Dai, both of the Physics and Astronomy department, got a raise of $16,000, from $75,000 to $91,000, or 21.3 percent.

The pay for Amy Cerato of the Civil Engineering and Environmental Science department was raised by 33.7 percent, from $119,678 to $160,000.

Jill Irvine, Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies, was given an additional stipend of $33,000 (to supplement her $90,000 salary) for serving as Faculty Fellow for Community Engagement for the Office of the Senior Vice President and Provost.

Three faculty members, Catherine Kelly, Elyssa Faison, and Jenifer Davis, received annualized raises of $11,000, $8,000, and $13,000 respectively. Each instructor teaches in the history department and has adjunct duties in the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies.

According to a productivity report published by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, the OU Department of Women’s and Gender Studies conferred an average of 6.8 bachelor’s degrees per year from 2010 through 2014. The department conferred 34 total degrees during that five-year period and averaged fewer than 24 students enrolled in the program per year.

Below are other examples of faculty raises for the coming fiscal year:

  • Keith Gaddie, Political Science, $40,000, or 24.5 percent, from $163,000 to $203,000.
  • David Wrobel, History, $96,533, or 59.3 percent, from $162,690 to $259,223.
  • Gregg Garn, Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, $25,000, or 10.1% percent, from $247,350 to $272,350.
  • Mark Morvant, Chemistry and Biochemistry, $40,000, or 30.2% percent, from $132,600 to $172,600.
  • Georgia Kosmopoulou, Economics, $38,884, or 25.7 percent, from $151,116 to $190,000.
  • Joshua Landis, International and Area Studies, $24,794, or 23.6 percent, from $105,000 to $129,794.
  • Jeffery Volz, Civil Engineering and Environmental Science, $33,200, or 36.2 percent, from $91,800 to $125,000.

The OU Board of Regents approved the fiscal year 2018 budget, the tuition and fee increases, and the pay raises by unanimous voice vote. There was no discussion or debate.

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