The State Regents for Higher Education will violate state law if they implement an initiative designed to give them greater control over Rogers University, according to Senator Charles Ford. Last week, it was revealed the regents were working on a plan to shake up the four-school consortium and reduce the influence of the local Rogers University board.
"State law gives Tulsa a voice in its higher education affairs and the state regents are trying to take that away. A bunch of bureaucrats in Oklahoma City can't rewrite the law or wire around it just so they can increase their sphere of influence at the expense of Tulsa," said Senator Ford.
In 1992, the statute in question gave the local governing board for the University Center at Tulsa the power to determine the needs of its institution and contract for those needs from a four school consortium consisting of the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University, Northeastern State University and Langston University. If those schools could not meet the needs detailed by the UCT board, it could contract with others.
Before the state law, the consortium schools, not the UCT board, determined what they thought were Tulsa's higher education needs.
The terms of that state law were transferred to Rogers University when it was created by a 1996 merger between UCT and Rogers State College in Claremore.
The latest action by the state regents would once again strip Tulsa of its local control over its higher education system, returning the authority to the state regents, OU and OSU. That is a clear violation of the law, according to Senator Ford.
"It's very clear. The law says one thing and the state regents are doing another. I'd like to say I was surprised by their blatant disregard for the law, but it's pretty consistent with the arrogant behavior the state regents have displayed with regard to Tulsa in the past," said Senator Ford.
The state regents have asserted that the constitutional status of their board gives them great leeway in their activities, but the Tulsa legislator calls that attitude "ludicrous."
"The state regents don't have the constitutional authority to break any state law they please. It may come as a shock to them, but they have to follow the laws just like the rest of us," said Senator Ford.
"The state regents want a return to the old system where bureaucrats in Oklahoma City call the shots for Tulsa and apparently they don't mind violating the law to do it."
According to Senator Ford, the old system brought few benefits to Tulsa and few opportunities for students there. The state regents and the consortium schools dictated what they felt was best for Tulsa, offering few classes or degrees to the people in Oklahoma's second largest city. Even under the new system, some schools have continued to drag their feet, offering Tulsa far less than they do on their main campuses in the way of courses or experienced professors.
"Tulsa has always been treated like a second-class citizen in higher education and the state regents are trying to make matters even worse. That's unacceptable," said Senator Ford.
The Tulsa legislator said he will consider legal action if the state regents move forward with their initiative.
"The best thing would be for the state regents to admit they got caught and shelve their whole power grab before it gets them into really hot legal water. If they insist on moving forward with a blatantly illegal action, I'll ask the courts to put a stop to it," said Senator Ford.