NORMAN — University of Oklahoma President David Boren spoke to a small group of students and faculty on the precarious state of Oklahoma’s higher education budget Tuesday afternoon, expressing both profound frustration and moderate hope.
Boren cited a column he distributed to state newspapers condemning what he described as the “dismantling” of public higher education in the United States.
“Has there been a vote in the legislature or Congress to abolish public higher education? No, but there might as well have been, because what is happening across the country is the budget for these institutions has been declining so rapidly,” Boren said. “We are transforming affordable public universities into unaffordable private universities.”
Emphasizing the university’s record-setting scholarship and graduation rate, Boren sarcastically referred to the further cuts implemented by the early 2013 legislative term as a “reward.”
“We’re trying to do everything we can to wake up the public, take our case to the governor and legislative leaders, and instead of turning it around — at least at the beginning of the session — we started with further cuts and disinvestment, no increase to funding at all,” Boren said.
Stating that OU’s budget has absorbed more than $100 million in cuts since 2008, Boren detailed how the capital repayment of a state bond issue that helped fund the construction of facilities, including Gaylord Hall and Lissa and Cy Wagner Hall, may be considered the university’s responsibility to pay off.
“Our share of the bond would be about $5.5 million, which — factored together with everything else — puts us about $11 to $12 million in the hole (for 2013),” Boren said. “The legislature has not decided whether or not their budget should cover the bond issue, and we’ve been working hard to emphasize the bond is a state obligation and been making great progress on that.”
In spite of the grim situation, Boren added that he currently believes there’s a reasonable possibility the university may see an increase in state funds.
“Do I think we’ll do better than zero? I think so. Do I think we’ll do much better than zero? I’m not sure,” Boren said.
Sen. Rob Standridge, R-Norman, expressed similar tentative hope as to a slight increase.
“Though I can’t comment as to what’s going on in budget discussions, I can say the Senate’s two highest priorities have been higher education and common education. I’ve done all I can to advocate for an increase in funding and I am cautiously optimistic.”
On whether other priorities may override education for the Senate, Standridge mentioned that improving infrastructure had been discussed, but emphasized that education was a top priority.
Whether OU students will see another increase in tuition and fees will depend upon pending decisions and allotments by the state legislature and governor.