A Three-Point Plan for Reforming Higher Education in Oklahoma
By David DemingOver the past few years the higher education establishment in Oklahoma has repeatedly warned that their mission of education is being compromised by a funding crisis. They want more money but offer nothing in return. Administrators have turned a blind eye to glaring problems and excesses in Oklahoma’s colleges and universities. They’re not rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic – they’re enlarging the hole in the ship by doubling down on mismanagement, politicization, and exploitation. Higher education will never reform itself. Effective change will have to be imposed by the Legislature and people of Oklahoma. To that end, I propose a simple three-point reform plan.
The first reform is adoption of the Kalven Report. The Kalven Report is a statement drafted in 1967 at the University of Chicago that affirms that institution’s dedication to free speech, open discussion, and scholarly inquiry unimpeded by political correctness. In 2015, Chicago reaffirmed its commitment to free speech, noting "it is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive." Princeton and Purdue University are among the institutions that have formally endorsed the Kalven Report.
Oklahoma’s colleges desperately need to adopt an official policy of intellectual and political tolerance. In 2016, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) named OU as one of the ten worst colleges in the US for free speech. Greg Lukianoff, President of FIRE, singled out OU as the most intolerant of all institutions because its actions were taken as a signal by other universities that they could “toss freedom of speech and basic fairness out of the window.”
The administration and Faculty Senate at OU have instructed members of the campus community to report incidents of “hate speech” to the police. What is “hate speech?” It’s anything that a person finds offensive. Keep in mind that if you say something as innocuous as “I support President Trump,” a number of people on the OU campus would categorize this as “hate speech.” Ironically, the obsession with suppressing “hate speech” has transformed the OU campus into the most intolerant and hateful place in the entire state. On November 15, 2016, a person was reported to the OU Police for the “crime” of Christian proselytizing. On February 2, 2017, two peaceful people holding signs supporting President Trump were physically assaulted on the OU campus.
Second, as a first step towards reversing politicization, abolish the “Studies” programs. Women’s Studies, African-American, and Native-American Studies have never been fields of legitimate academic inquiry. These programs have nothing to do with women, African-Americans or American Indians. They are entirely devoted to promoting radical left-wing ideologies that subvert American values of individualism, democracy, tolerance, and freedom.. Students in “Studies” programs are taught that the US is a vile racist nation where anyone who is not a white male is oppressed and disenfranchised. Young minds are filled with envy, resentment, and anger. The bitter fruit of this instruction is political violence.
Whenever the higher education establishment wants more money, they trot out the old argument that higher education is essential to Oklahoma’s economy. It is. But there are no jobs for people with degrees in “Women’s Studies.” Employment opportunities are in areas like computer science, engineering, and nursing. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, recently pleaded that students be taught computer programming. This year, the Oklahoma Legislature cut the higher education budget by six percent. How did the University of Oklahoma respond? They went out and hired three new faculty members for the Native-American Studies program. What a colossal waste of scarce resources!
Third, limit salaries through a Constitutional Amendment so that no individual in higher education can be paid more money than the Oklahoma governor. The Governor’s salary is $147,000. A US Congressman makes $174,000. The median family income in Oklahoma is about $48,000. Yet the University of Oklahoma has scores of faculty and staff whose salaries are in excess of $200,000. According to http://oklahomawatchdata.org, 100 individuals at OU earn more than $207,000 annually. Salaries for these platinum-plated professors and administrators are obscene and unnecessary. Children from middle-class families are being priced out of college degrees through the incessant tuition increases that are necessary to feed this sick greed. According to oklahomawatchdata.org, tuition at OU from 2006/2007 through 2016/2017 increased by 69 percent. Over the same period of time, median family income in the US decreased.
There’s also a dirty little secret hiding in plain sight. Many of the courses at OU are not taught by the elite professors, but temporary instructors who can be paid as little as $20,000. or less. According to OU’s Office of Institutional Statistics, in Fall of 2016, the University employed a total of 163 “renewable term” employees. The exploitation of these people is reprehensible.
Oklahoma’s institutions of higher education are politicized, inefficient, and out of touch. They have evolved to serve an elite group of insiders who are exploiting the system for personal and political gain. If the Universities are to recapture their mission of education, drastic and immediate reforms are needed.
Dr. Deming is professor of arts and sciences at the University of Oklahoma