Two of Tulsa's leading state lawmakers are asking the State Regents for Higher Education to put their latest proposal for Tulsa higher education in written legislation. Senator Penny Williams and Senator Charles Ford want a concrete pledge that any future changes to the current Rogers University structure will benefit the students and stakeholders in Oklahoma's second largest city.
"We think we have a pretty good institution right now and we're not willing to trade it away for something sight unseen. When it is demonstrated that the changes will be a plus for the students and the people of Tulsa, we will be more than willing to add to the foundation we worked so hard to build," said Senator Williams.
"We've worked very hard to overcome a history of neglect and bring educational opportunities to Tulsa. We're certainly anxious to explore any proposed changes that would make the current system better, but we want a guarantee that the latest effort won't just signal a return to the old days when Tulsa's needs were ignored," added Senator Ford.
The State Regents have proposed a sweeping, two-phase overhaul of the current contracting model in Tulsa, giving OU and OSU greater authority, altering the roles of Langston University and Northeastern State University and ultimately making Rogers University a four-year school with campuses in Rogers and Mayes Counties.
Because the changes will alter the state laws that created the present contracting model in Tulsa, they must be approved by both the Legislature and the Governor. The Tulsa Senators want the Regents to put their proposal in the form of written legislation before a public hearing on the issue is held in Tulsa next month.
"A lot of promises were made in the past that were never kept. That's why it's so important for the people of Tulsa to see the specific changes in written legislation, not just some vague pronouncements about what might, could or should happen. We don't disagree with the direction the Regents are trying to move, but it's very critical that we get assurances in law guaranteeing Tulsa will get the higher education access it needs and deserves," said Senator Ford.
"It wasn't until we put hard, specific language in the lawbooks that Tulsa got the higher education institution it enjoys today. We owe it to the students to demand that any new promises be backed up by the force of law so there won't be any question about what will happen in the future," added Senator Williams.
The University Center at Tulsa was first created in 1982, but didn't get its own Tulsa-based governing board with specific authority until 10 years later. When the Legislature created the board in 1992, it marked the first time that Tulsa had any real influence in its higher education offerings.
"We accepted a good faith commitment from the State Regents back in 1982 that our needs would be met, but 15 years later Tulsa students still aren't getting what they need in the way of four-year degrees. We're anxious to work out some mutual agreement on their latest proposal, providing that it builds on the foundation we have rather than erodes it," said Senator Ford.
"It's very important that the students and people of Tulsa continue to have a strong voice in the administration of their higher education institution. The main thing our student consumers have stressed to me is that Tulsa must remain an active participant in the process. We can't return to the days when decisions for Tulsa were made solely in Oklahoma City, Norman and Stillwater," added Senator Williams.
Both legislators say they are looking forward to working with the State Regents to put the proposed changes into legislation and begin the process of determining the best course of action for Tulsa higher education.
"Once we have this in bill form, we can start getting input from students and the many other stakeholders in Tulsa. We'll also be working in cooperation with Governor Keating to do what is best for Tulsa and the state of Oklahoma," said Senator Ford.
"I'm enthusiastic about the prospect of building on the higher education foundation we have in Tulsa. We've managed to bring better opportunities to our students in recent years and we certainly want to do everything we can to enhance them," said Senator Williams.