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OU President Joseph Harroz, Board of Regents approve faculty appointment changes, tout COVID-19 vaccination preparations

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OU Board of Regents Chairman Gary Pierson (left), OU President Joseph Harroz (center) and Regent Frank Keating (right) at the Jan. 28 Board of Regents meeting.

The OU Board of Regents approved an increase to the percentage of ranked renewable term faculty at OU and promotion opportunities for non-regular faculty during its Thursday meeting.

The meeting began at 7:45 a.m., immediately entering executive session until the beginning of public session around 5:30 p.m. OU Board of Regents Chairman Gary Pierson began the public session by praising the university for “sticking it out” with extensive in-person classes in the fall semester while other universities “stayed home to do it over the television.”

Shortly after entering public session, the regents moved to simultaneously approve the consent items for Cameron University, Rogers State University and the University of Oklahoma. Among those items for OU were changes to university faculty appointments, including the increase in total percentage of ranked renewable term faculty from 10 to 20 percent of total university faculty.

Other approved changes included new levels of promotion for non-regular faculty with the ranks of “senior” and “distinguished” lecturer or instructor.

Some OU faculty expressed concern on Twitter the move signaled “adjunctification” of teaching positions at OU by increasing the cap of non-tenure track faculty permitted, but OU President Joseph Harroz and OU Board of Regents Chairman Gary Pierson said the move was intended to diversify positional options at the university.

“I think this is part of the maturation to our goal, which is to be in that middle grouping of the (Association of American Universities public institutions). When you look at where they are, you really have to have that stratification (of faculty positions) and that range of options so that you can make sure you’re maximizing your research impact,” Harroz said. “We went through exhaustive work with the faculty senate over the course of months, and any time you do something with any kind of categorization of faculty there’s always discussion around it.”

Pierson said the policy change is intended to help draw a “broader, more diverse and inclusive” faculty as well as making recruitment and retention of faculty “more robust.”

Harroz and Pierson signaled hope the fall semester will see an increased return to normalcy, though Harroz acknowledged there would still be safety precautions in place. Much of what the university will allow — including potential percentage attendance at home football games — will rely on the state’s vaccination numbers, Harroz said.

Pierson said the university is “very well prepared” to begin increased vaccine distribution as more doses are received, adding OU could potentially “move even faster than county protocols would allow” along the state vaccination plan.

“I know we’re in discussions with the leadership of the state about doing more in that area, including mass vaccinations, but that's not really controlled by us,” Pierson said.

Harroz also commented on the Jan. 18 release of the OU Black Emergency Response Team’s finalized demands from the February 2020 sit-in at Evans Hall and a Twitter thread from OU graduate and former BERT officer Miles Francisco, wherein Francisco offered reflections on his time in BERT and at OU.

Francisco tweeted it was “difficult for (him) to look at OU’s strategic plan,” as he felt demands from the sit-in were “watered down to the point of being unrecognizable if not completely left out.”

Some of the finalized five demands BERT made — including the creation of a vice provost of institutional equity and excellence — were implemented, with former interim Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Jane Irungu currently serving in the position, interim Senior Vice President and Provost Jill Irvine wrote in an email to The Daily.

Other aspects of the demands, like the creation of a multicultural center, have been hamstrung by the COVID-19 pandemic, Dean of Students David Surratt said in an interview with The Daily. The duties intended for the advisory body overseeing the president and provosts' offices proposed in BERT’s first demand were diverted to the already-existing Vice President's Advisory Council, Surratt said.

In the Jan. 18 release, BERT wrote its leadership continued to work with OU’s administration “to make sure all demands are met in an equitable manner” and bring “long lasting institutional change.”

Harroz said he had not been aware of the disappointment Francisco expressed with the administration’s implementation of BERT’s demands. 

“That’s surprising … so what I’ve heard has been really the opposite, that we’ve shown our commitment and lived up to it,” Harroz said. “Throughout, (Surratt), myself and (Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Belinda Higgs-Hyppolite) have stayed focused on that … from my perspective, and through all my communications it’s that we’ve certainly hopefully succeeded in those conversations.”

Pierson said he had not seen the Jan. 18 BERT press release.

The Board of Regents’ next regular meeting is scheduled for March 4 and 5.

Blake Douglas joined the OU Daily news desk in October 2018, and is currently the news managing editor. Previously, Blake has served as an intern reporter, senior news reporter and summer news editor.

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