Letter from the Provost: International Programs
Dear OU Community,
One of the things that makes OU special is its commitment to international programs and international students, faculty, and staff. We have built a global university, right here on the prairie. We are proud of it, and rightly so. Obviously, OU’s international programs have been in the news this week. I feel that it is important to share with you some factual context about decisions that have been made, the reasons for them, and the process through which we arrived at them. What follows is a bit detailed, but it is important for our community at this critical moment. I also want to say a few things about the future of international studies at OU and to ask for your help.
We have been carefully reviewing every budget at OU, both administrative and academic. The reasons are threefold. First, we have no choice. Over the last few years, the university has spent about $50 million more than it has taken in, which is clearly unsustainable. Second, we need to make sure that our resources are thoughtfully aligned with our mission. Our faculty and staff are underpaid. Our graduate students are overburdened with fees. And we haven’t focused enough on research. Third, as a public institution, we have a duty to provide affordable excellence. Affordability means accessibility, and accessibility means diversity and equality of opportunity.
These budget reviews aren’t easy. But every unit is going through them, and for those departments in Academic Affairs, President Gallogly and the Faculty Senate established an ad hoc committee comprised of 11 faculty, including myself, from across the spectrum of disciplines. This committee provides an additional level of scrutiny and input. The goal of the entire budget review process is to assess how we stabilize our finances, remain affordable, and focus our limited resources on the academic mission; our faculty committee provides an extra source of faculty perspective on the impact that any reductions might have on the mission.
The College of International Studies completed the review. A great deal of thought, debate, and deliberation went into the budget decisions that were made. There were no cuts to the Department of International and Area Studies or to any services for international students, faculty, and staff. However, we have a wide range of study abroad programs and efforts, and these unsurprisingly provided an area where we could be better stewards of our resources. Most of the decisions made were frankly just obvious. We spend about ½ of the annual budget for the Global Engagement Fellows, and so we cut the budget in half. We own a monastery in Arezzo, and we plan to use it as efficiently as possible to reduce off-site rents.
The action that has received the most attention is the decision to retreat from the Study Center model in Rio. In some ways, this was hard, because anything impacting students and faculty is hard. In other ways, this was an inevitable choice. Study centers are expensive, and very few universities have three of them. Rio has the lowest enrollments of any study center. In fact, it is the most heavily subsidized academic program on campus… by a multiple of three. So the opportunity to save large amounts of money, with the least impact on students, is greatest here. In the past, we didn’t always make decisions about whether expanding programs had a good impact relative to the cost for our students. But it is basic responsibility to ask these kinds of questions. We have to be smarter and more responsible with our resources. I feel that we can focus on our two outstanding study centers, in Puebla and Arezzo, and our range of other faculty-led programs abroad, with just as much or more impact.
Let me quote the consensus statement provided to the President from the faculty review committee: “The committee unanimously supports OU’s international mission and does not want to see it diminished, even in an environment where greater focus and efficiency is required. Broadly, the committee recognizes that some streamlining of costs and initiatives, while regrettable, is inevitable and necessary… The level of subsidy going to the [Rio] program is disproportional to all other international programs, and even under optimistic assumptions the program will potentially remain costly. The elimination of the Rio program should not signal or presage a retrenchment from OU’s international commitments. Rather, we should seek to direct a larger number of students through a somewhat reduced number of programs and centers that can sustain higher enrollments.”
I would also like to make sure you saw that I asked Jill Irvine to step in as Interim Dean of the College of International Studies. Many of you know Jill. She is an outstanding professional and leader who will also be a great listener in this moment. And if you know Jill, you know that she is a passionate and tenacious advocate of international programs and international students, faculty, and staff. I asked her because I feel, now more than ever, OU needs someone who is both strong and effective in this important leadership role.
The truth is that OU maintains a remarkably strong and broad portfolio of international programs. The College of International Studies is an important part of our future. We greatly value our international students, faculty, and staff, and we need them more than ever. I am a passionate believer in our international programs. I first went abroad when I was a student here, and it was life-changing for me. I know first-hand that the excitement and intellectual richness of teaching abroad is one of the most rewarding experiences we can have. It is deeply important to me that we value our international programs and our international community.
Senior Vice President and Provost