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Interim Provost Jill Irvine outlines plans for COVID-19 safety measures, improved diversity initiatives

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Jill Irvine (copy)

Jill Irvine, interim provost and senior vice president. 

Interim Provost and Senior Vice President Jill Irvine outlined her goals, which include focuses on the university's COVID-19 response and racial justice, in an email to faculty members. 

Irvine was appointed as interim provost and senior vice president after Kyle Harper announced in a Wednesday email his plans to step down from the position and return to a faculty position. Throughout his time as provost, Harper was widely criticized by university students and faculty alike for his response to racist incidents, the process by which he came into his position and other issues.  

Irvine welcomes the opportunity to “lead and support faculty, staff and students as we navigate these difficult times together,” she said in the email. She added both the OU campus and the U.S. are being challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic and entering a time for “reflection and change” concerning racial justice. 

Irvine said in the email her three areas of focus over the next few months are fulfilling the university’s mission of providing a “first-rate education” to students while also responding to the COVID-19 pandemic with the OU community’s safety and well-being as a top priority, taking “concrete steps” to make OU more equitable and inclusive, and following the university’s strategic plan through a final phase of approval and overseeing its implementation. She said in implementing the strategic plan, administrators also have a “renewed focus” on supporting top-level faculty research and creative activity. 

Faculty members took on major challenges as they shifted to online learning, altering their research plans and other activities in the process, Irvine noted in the email. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has been a time of great personal sacrifice for our faculty and staff, and I want to express my appreciation for your tireless efforts and dedication to supporting our students and their educational needs,” Irvine said in the email. “I understand the challenges and frustrations that you have faced in the last months, even as so many of you have been juggling unexpected personal situations and demanding familial obligations.”

Irvine said in the email the provost’s office, along with many other OU offices, has been and will be developing plans for a safe return to campus. She said, in a process now led by Chief COVID Officer Dr. Dale Bratzler, administrators have been consulting with experts to create protocols for classroom instruction, residential life, campus operations and research operations. 

Developing these plans takes time, Irvine said in the email, but the provost’s office will continue to communicate protocol to faculty “as quickly as possible.” She also said faculty members are extremely important and continue to be “at the center of our planning processes.” 

Irvine said in the email administrators continue to focus efforts on diversity, equity and inclusion, even as the pandemic demands much of their attention. 

“Our campus and our country have been reverberating with the voices of those who have been marginalized and excluded, voices calling for enduring change,” Irvine said in the email. “Education is a key to this change, and it is our charge to create a truly inclusive and equitable campus. President Harroz has articulated this commitment, and I whole-heartedly share this vision.” 

Administrators are creating a course for all first-year and transfer students emphasizing “cultural fluency in a diverse campus community,” which will be launched in the fall of 2021, Irvine said in the email. She said they’re also developing training that faculty “need to create inclusive classrooms.” 

“As faculty and administrators, we must make a commitment to take the time and effort to learn more, to listen more, and to become advocates for equity for all historically marginalized populations and for racial justice,” Irvine said in the email.

Irvine said in the email, as preparation for next school year begins, the university is poised to adopt a strategic plan that will “help chart our path to becoming a top tier public research university.” The five pillars of the strategic plan provide steps for OU to enhance its mission — “to prepare students for a life of meaning, service, and impact while keeping OU affordable and attainable.” 

“We must also redouble our commitment to promoting excellence in faculty research and creative activity,” Irvine said in the email. “As a university, we strive to support the emotional and intellectual growth of all students, faculty and staff, and in order to do this, we must become a place of inclusion and belonging, where everyone feels welcomed and valued. But our university is not an island. We also serve the wider communities which we touch, and the strategic plan emphasizes the importance of enhancing research and creative activity to positively impact Oklahoma, the nation, and beyond. With this blueprint in hand, we will not only meet the challenges we face, but take advantage of new opportunities to elevate the work we do as a university community.” 

Listening is an essential part of leadership, Irvine said in the email, and hearing from faculty members is a priority. 

“I encourage you to convey your ideas and thoughts to me by email,” Irvine said in the email. “As I step into this role, I look forward to working with you to further the aspirations and goals of our academic community in the coming months.”

Ari Fife is the OU Daily summer editor-in-chief and a sophomore journalism major minoring in international studies and political science. Previously, she served as a senior news reporter and was an SGA beat reporter.

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