OU’s Nov. 1 staff reduction included the closure of three offices housed in the Office of the Vice President for Research, leaving some undergraduates concerned about research opportunities.
On Thursday, Nov. 1, OU President James Gallogly sent an email to all faculty and staff saying roughly 50 employees had been terminated as part of the first phase in a "cost-savings" plan for the university.
The offices that were eliminated were the Center for Research Program Development and Enrichment (CRPDE), the Center for Applied Research Development (CARD) and the Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR), according to Randall Hewes, interim vice president for research.
According to OU Public Affairs, Hewes said in emails to staff and faculty on Thursday, Nov. 1, that while these offices have provided research support for many individuals, they have also been “very expensive.”
“We are taking a hard look at reorganization and budgets with the sole objective of being able to invest in research,” Hewes said in the email. “By streamlining and re-focusing our operations through the actions today, we can provide quality research support in more coordinated and efficient ways.”
Hewes said some responsibilities are being shifted to other existing staff. Two former CRPDE staff moved to the Office of Research Services, he said, where they will continue to perform functions similar to their previous roles.
“The layoffs and office closures today were very painful, but I also think they were necessary, and they are part of what we need to do as an institution to truly grow graduate education and research,” Hewes said in the statement.
Emily Mee, a political science senior working toward a master’s in public administration, said her position as an undergraduate research ambassador through the Office of Undergraduate Research has been terminated as a result of the office’s closure.
Mee said she found out about the closure on Thursday through an email from her supervisor in the office. She and other students were supposed to present at a panel on Friday, Nov. 2, but that didn't happen, and she said they were confused about their roles going forward given the sudden closure.
“It just came as a really big surprise that we had no notice,” Mee said. “It seems ethically, morally wrong to fire people without notice, especially coming right into the holidays.”
The Office of Undergraduate Research included two faculty directors and six student employees, Mee said. The office helped students who might not otherwise have access to research opportunities, including low-income, minority and first-generation students, gain connections, resources and tools to get involved in research.
Mee said she was surprised by the decision to end the program given Gallogly’s stated goal of doubling the university’s research. Undergraduate research is a “stepping stone” into graduate research, Mee said.
“It was surprising to me that an office that’s dedicated to this mission of helping students get into graduate school by gaining necessary experience in undergraduate research — that he would decide to terminate the program seemed very against the mission that he’s been saying he’s about,” Mee said.
Others took to Twitter expressing the same confusion on why the research offices had been closed in the layoffs.
Didn't @OU14Pres say he wanted to double research? What's the point of cutting research departments?— JayVoting (@jaymocking) November 2, 2018
Osamah Mian, biomedical engineering junior and vice president of the student-led Scientific Undergraduate Research Association, said the group he helped found last year began as a small student group without big ambitions but is now evaluating how it can step up to fill the void left by OUR’s closure.
He and other leaders in the organization met Friday to determine ways in which they can support undergraduates in research and take on some of aspects of OUR’s mission, such as a research symposium.
“We’ll never be able to completely fill that void because OUR was such a well-led institution,” Mian said, “but now at least the board of SURA sees this as our opportunity to do as much as we can to fill in those holes that OUR left.”
OU’s Center for Research Program Development and Enrichment, also shuttered in the layoffs, was created in 2010 to improve OU’s ability to compete for external funding for faculty research programs, build greater awareness of funding opportunities and articulate faculty research goals to potential funding sources. The program’s website was no longer available on Friday.
The third office that was closed, the Center for Applied Research and Development, was focused on bringing new intellectual opportunities to faculty and students, facilitating interdisciplinary collaboration and creating new modes of engagement with industry, government and other stakeholders, according to its website.
Mee said OUR was one of the few programs offering opportunities for undergraduates to get funded in research.
“We were, in my opinion, just a drop in the bucket when it came to (OU’s) debt,” Mee said, “so I was surprised that he chose to pick on such a small, low-funded program that does such important work.”