In the second address of the State of the University series, OU President Joseph Harroz discussed the COVID-19 pandemic's impact on the university, and staff members' role in meeting strategic plan goals.
The meeting opened with remarks from Justin Daniels, the University of Oklahoma fire marshal, who began by thanking multiple staffing departments.
Harroz took over after the opening remarks and began by reaffirming that OU staff have taken one, two or three jobs a person. He also said he believes the staff senate is a reflection of true leadership at OU.
Harroz said of his past State of the University addresses, the COVID-19 crisis has impacted his last three.
"We're optimistic, but we're also tired," Harroz said, "We were all incredibly anxious. The staff has been there every step of the way."
There used to be staff appreciation events, he said, but staff appreciation should focus on the essential function that the staff provides on campus.
Harroz said that another professor said the pandemic was a challenge that couldn't be compared to any others.
"When we talk about what is the state of the university, our view of it changes every single day," Harroz said.
He also said with new COVID-19 information every day, the university and staff must make constant efforts to adapt.
"It's a community tested in a way I've never seen before, and rising above like I've never seen," Harroz said.
Harroz believes the state of the university is strong because of the people. "It's one that has been tested and will continue to be tested."
"I've never been more proud. I've never been more humbled, and I've never been more honored," Harroz said when reflecting on how the university has risen during the pandemic.
Harroz defined the purpose of the university as changing lives.
Harroz discussed the financial and academic impacts of going online.
"We were among the 30% of universities who were losing money. We started measures before the pandemic and now we're not only ok but we're doing good," Harroz said.
Harroz said he believes the multi-year Lead on University strategic plan and multi-year budget will be a massive benefit to the university in the long run.
Harroz spoke about the future, ranging from the five-year plan to replace the towers to fulfilling the strategic plan of OU.
"We either believe in our purpose or we don't," Harroz said.
Harroz said most institutions were facing a decline in student enrollment, and 2025's incoming class will likely impact where the university stands in the future. But the intake of the largest freshman class this year could help negate the coming impact of 2025, he added.
Harroz reflected on the importance of the new freshman class, its diversity and their qualifications.
Research expenditures were up considerably, according to Harroz, something that he believes will help the university in the long run.
Harroz spoke about the large OU Health Science Center merger, and remarked that typically states with large academic research institutions tend to be healthier. He believes this program will help Oklahomans be healthier.
"It's not isolated. It ties directly into the pillars that we have," Harroz said on academics and the strategic plan of the university.
"We can't just be affordable, we have to maintain excellence," Harroz said as he spoke on the university's finances.
Harroz believes the strategic plan budget will help manage the university's growth and continue to achieve excellence.
"Thinking tomorrow is gonna be just like yesterday doesn't cut it. The changing nature of higher education will make sure of it," Harroz said.
Harroz believes the university stands with optimism now, and will continue too as it stands against the pandemic. "The university is stable, and strong and has the possibility of excellence because of all of you," Harroz said to the staff.
Heather Todd began the Q&A section after Harroz's remarks.
The first question was over staffing shortages.
"It will be temporary even though it's happening right now," Harroz said, "Every staffing level is stressed. We've been trying to be more creative in how we engage in new hires, and retain those who are still with us."
Harroz was asked to comment on the loss of employees and added work on current employees with no increase in salary.
"There has to be an understanding there will be regular pay increases," Harroz said, "Compression is corrosive and inversion is brutal. To be in a workplace and having someone who was just hired making more than you."
Harroz noted again that the strategic plan will include regular staff and salary increase every two years. He also said he wanted to make transparency around pay increases.
Harroz said that the university's data has not suggested that a lack of online formatting for professors has impacted staff losses.
"What we provide is an on campus, in-person community. We have to put the best interests of our students ahead," Harroz said.
Harroz said that exceptions could be made for those who are more likely to get COVID or have people in their lives who are more likely to get COVID.
Harroz was questioned about staff whose salaries have fallen below market value.
Harroz said comparing salaries is not a good way to live life, and instead said for staff to determine if the work they do is equal to their pay.
Harroz once again said that the strategic plan would be helpful in gathering the data required to analyze staff pay and equalizing them.
Harroz was next asked about incoming staff benefits.
He said a committee charged with evaluating healthcare costs has overwhelmingly recommended transitioning from Blue Cross Blue Shield to Cigna, though a decision hasn't been reached yet.
Harroz also discussed the sacrifices he's made in his personal life to advance OU's mission.
"On days I'm discouraged I go home and thing about how I'm able to change lives," Harroz said.
He believes every member of staff needs to feel that they're apart of something noble, and are a part of something worthwhile that's bigger than the employee themselves.
"Let's not make the easy decisions," Harroz said.
Harroz believes that being a part of the strategic plan matters.
"Is this a plan I believe in, is this worthwhile, and can I provide for my family in a way that I can benefit others?" Harroz asked the staff to think on these questions.
"Read it and try to buy into it," Harroz said.
Editor's Note: This article was updated at 12:20 p.m. on Sept. 8 to reflect that Justin Daniels is fire marshal.