OU campus shutdown

An empty University of Oklahoma campus is shown. The university closed in March due to COVID-19 but will resume this fall.

The University of Oklahoma is working to head off a multimillion-dollar deficit in the university’s 2021 budget, OU President Joe Harroz said Thursday.

OU’s Board of Regents convened virtually for its annual budget meeting Thursday afternoon, approving fiscal year 2021 budgets for OU’s Norman and Health Sciences Center campuses along with student tuition and fees.

The meeting revealed preliminary numbers in the FY 21 budget showing that OU’s Norman campus could face a $17.6 million deficit. The budget meeting was Harroz’ first regents meeting since the board made him permanent president in May.

The $982 million Norman budget was created to absorb a 3.95% reduction in state funding, according to Harroz, who said OU built in double the expected state funding cut of $4.75 million for the Norman campus.

The budget also assumes OU will see smaller-than-usual revenue from athletics and a reduced return on donor gift interest due to market conditions amid the pandemic. The budget projects what amounts to a $25 million decrease in athletics revenues from 2020 to 2021, though the number is still preliminary.

“We think it’s a pretty conservative budget — we also know that we’re going to need to go ahead and plan on that $17.6 million change in that position, and it’s going to require us to engage in some additional cost-saving measures on top of this,” Harroz said.

Harroz said after the meeting that OU is working on a number of solutions, from pulling from university reserves, to refinancing, to more cost-saving measures like further consolidating the IT budget. The university’s goal is not to make any cuts that impact student experience or OU research capabilities, Harroz said.

Regent Natalie Shirley said board members worked closely with OU administrators through the “enormous challenge” of this year’s budget creation.

“The budget for OU was certainly made even more complex with the issues of the dorms, with the issues of athletics, et cetera,” Shirley said. “ ... The committee reviewed these budgets in great detail — we asked a number of probing questions, we examined [administrators’] assumptions as they went into making these budget numbers.”

The regents also approved OU’s plans for 2021-22 tuition and fees on the Norman and Health Sciences Center campuses on Thursday.

Tuition and mandatory fees for Norman undergraduates and law students will not increase in the coming year. The regents approved some slight fee reductions for graduate students, along with a tuition increase for Health Sciences Center students enrolled in professional programs.

While Harroz did not give an enrollment or retention update Thursday, he did report that OU’s on-campus dorms are currently at 97% occupancy for this fall. The university has created about 300 single-person rooms in its resident towers, and will designate a facility to isolate students who contract COVID-19, Harroz said.

OU is also investing in “Synexis Spheres” for each room in the towers. The devices — which will cost the university $2,530,000 to install and maintain — release dry hydrogen peroxide to combat viruses and bacteria, according to OU.

In an item tucked into the quickly passed consent section of the agenda, the regents also approved the departure of John Schwandt, an organ professor and former director of OU’s now-dissolved American Organ Institute. The OU Daily reported in March that OU’s Title IX Office investigated Schwandt last year after multiple organ students filed complaints about his conduct.

According to The Daily, the investigation came around the time the university publicly announced that it would not continue funding the institute. The June agenda lists Schwandt’s departure, effective July 1, under “resignations/terminations” and does not specify which condition applies to him.

Thursday’s 45-minute meeting ended with a recognition of Kyle Harper, OU’s provost of more than five years. Harper, who will leave his position as OU’s chief academic officer for a faculty role next month, has faced public criticism for his silence on racist events involving OU and conservative stances.

In the past year, Harper took on a leadership role in helping to craft the strategic plan, which will lay out a financial and academic framework for the university’s next few years. Harroz said Thursday that as OU begins the search for a new provost, the university will be looking for “excellence that can move the strategic plan forward.”

Harroz said Thursday he hopes to have the strategic plan finalized before the university releases the job description for the next provost so that the two can be tied together. OU’s Black Emergency Response Team, which called for Harper’s resignation as provost in February, has asked that OU seek out a provost who can create an inclusive campus learning environment.

The regents will officially approve Harper’s position change at their next meeting, which will take place at the board’s annual July retreat. The next meeting date has not been publicly set yet.

Emma Keith

366-3537

Follow me @emma_ckeith

ekeith@normantranscript.com

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