The University of Oklahoma Board of Regents met today to consider modifications to employee health benefits, the formation of search committees for three academic leadership positions, new degree programs and other items.
During the meeting, held on the OU Health Sciences Center campus, the Regents approved changes to the university’s medical benefits structure and plan design for employees. The changes will align the active employee and pre-Medicare retiree populations on the Norman campus with the Health Sciences Center medical plan design, adjusting the Norman campus medical premiums from a six-tier contribution model to a three-tier contribution model in 2021.
In his remarks, OU President Joseph Harroz Jr. noted that the pandemic has amplified the economic challenges facing all of higher education. OU is better positioned than most, Harroz said, referencing the university’s well-chronicled operating cuts of the last few years, which amounted to nearly $80 million between fiscal years 2019 and 2020.
“Nationwide, we have seen universities raise tuition and fees to cover rising costs, but at OU we have frozen tuition and mandatory fees for three years in a row,” Harroz said. “Even still, students pay the lion’s share of the cost of their education – something we must address with increasing urgency.”
Among OU’s increasing fixed costs are employee benefits offerings, which have risen approximately 10% annually in the recent years. Recently, the Board of Regents directed OU to assess its benefits offerings and to align with the peer market in a way that makes employee benefits competitive and attractive to top talent.
“If the cost of benefits to the institution is too low, we will lose the talent we require to achieve excellence, and if the cost is too high, we cannot achieve affordability for our students,” Harroz said. “Our goal is to address the need for change to the market standard in a way that minimizes negative impacts on our faculty and staff.”
OU is taking steps to mitigate the financial burden on its lowest-paid employees as well, Harroz said. The university has created a pool of resources throughout the transition period that will alleviate the additional burden the increases may cause this first year. Also, in an effort to address both benefits and fair compensation, particularly for those in lowest-paid positions, OU will enact a compensation study to ensure those in the lowest-paid positions are paid fairly in the market. The university is committing the first dollars of its next campus-wide salary program to those employees.
“We are taking steps to mitigate the negative impact of these changes,” said Harroz. “We will address this honestly and fairly, assessing both benefits and compensation, in particular for our lowest-paid positions. The measures we are taking have been forged in cooperation with the Staff Senate Executive Committee and have their full support.”
Also during the meeting, the board approved the formation of search committees for deans of the Honors College and the College of Law, as well as the senior vice president and provost for the Norman campus. Nationwide searches will be conducted for the positions.
“Finding the best-suited individuals to fill these key academic leadership roles will be crucial as we work toward unlocking our greatest potential as one of the nation’s top public research universities,” Harroz said.
The Regents also considered the addition of several new degree offerings, including a Master of Construction Business; a Master of Arts in Integrated Child Well-Being, which would be offered at OU-Tulsa; and two new online Master of Laws degrees in Healthcare Law and International Business Law. In addition, the board approved an online delivery option for four existing programs – the Master of Science in Architecture, the Master of Science in Computer Science, the Master of Arts in Journalism and Mass Communication, and the graduate certificate in geospatial technologies.
“These specialized degree programs, which capitalize on a number of OU’s areas of academic strength, are specifically designed to meet economic and societal needs,” Harroz said. “Expanding our strategic areas of expertise will ultimately benefit people and communities here in Oklahoma and far beyond.”
The proposed program offerings and delivery modifications will now go before the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education for final approval.
The board will next meet in January.
About the University of Oklahoma
Founded in 1890, the University of Oklahoma is a public research university located in Norman, Oklahoma. OU serves the educational, cultural, economic and health care needs of the state, region and nation. For more information visit www.ou.edu.