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OU Board of Regents approves search committees, medical plan in meeting attended by protestors

Regents

Members Gary Pierson, Joseph Harroz and Frank Keating of the OU Board of Regents on March 5.

The OU Board of Regents appointed members to administrative search committees, approved the evaluation of architectural firms for a Student Affairs project and were addressed by audience members on the university's COVID-19 polices during a Tuesday afternoon meeting.

OU Health Sciences Center Senior Vice President and Provost Jason Sanders said in a committee update he looks forward to welcoming Paul Mullasseril as the dean of the OU College of Dentistry. He also said he is excited to discuss the search item that will elect the next vice president of the Health Sciences Research to "grow and raise funding for clinical trials and expand its partnership with OU Health." 

Sanders said he is appreciative of the regents' support and the definitive agreements made in the merger of OU Physicians and OU Health in June. 

"The transition period is under way," Sanders said. "It is timely, as our health system, as well as many others, face significant nursing clinical staffing challenges. ... Now OU is going to be a part of the solution. We not know that the nursing shortage continues to persists. ... We're working together." 

Regent Frank Keating, the chair of the academic affairs and research committee, said the group was introduced to Senior Vice President and Provost André-Denis Wright. He said they were amazed by his "rich academic background and his personal background in the international world." 

"We were impressed with his vision, his humility and his commitment to focus on the top three things that are of importance to the University of Oklahoma. First is academics, second is academics and third is academics," Keating said. 

Keating also said the committee received a research update from Vice President for Research and Partnerships Tomás Díaz de la Rubia. He said there is a potential for "substantial funds" from Washington in a federal relief bill and he hopes it could be used to partner with private and public sectors.

OU President Joseph Harroz thanked the attendees of his inaugural address, saying it was an "incredible honor and obligation." 

Harroz addressed the students and faculty who attended the regents meeting in protest of administration's response to the pandemic. He said, in these "remarkably uncertain times," it is important to view the university's response as an "imperfect balancing." 

"We've had town halls and we'll have more and more discussions, and the answers aren't perfect, but it's always an effort to do better and get that balance. It will never be perfect," Harroz said. "We know the delta variant is one more barrier, and there'll be other variants. ... For those that have concerns, I agree, there are concerns on each side of how we manage the risks and also the opportunity that we bring."

The state of law concerning Senate Bill 658 and Executive Order 2021-16 will continued to be monitored as the university tailors its pandemic response, Harroz said. 

The renaming of the College of Arts and Sciences to include the Dodge family name is a moment Harroz said he considers to be a picture of the university's strategic plan moving forward.

"I love the fact that the Dodge family name is attached to it. ... The amazing work he did in physics and quantum physics, much of the basis was laid in the '20s for quantum physics that you use today. This intersection of physics and engineer applied physics is a frontier that is because of Homer Dodge and his work in 1919 and beyond," Harroz said.

The regents moved into voting on the university's action items. Agenda items 11, 12 and 13 covered search committees for university positions. Members first voted to approve the committee for the Vice Provost for Faculty. 

The Vice Provost for Faculty serves as the primary advisor to Senior Vice President and Provost André-Denis Wright on matters that impact faculty, according to the agenda. This would include overseeing faculty’s annual evaluation, tenure and promotion process, managing chair and director development initiatives, contributions in faculty hiring policies and practices and leading the academic program review process annually. 

The committe will have faculty, student and staff representatives, including Wright as the chair, Associate Provost for Academic Integrity Chris Walker as the Provost’s Office representative and OU Director of the Division of Architecture Stephanie Pilat as the faculty senate representative. Other representatives include international development senior Cricket Kaya as the Student Government Association representative and Department of Human Relations member Cathy Yeaman.

The search committee for the Honors College dean was also approved. This committee will be chaired by David L. Boren College of International Studies Scott Fritzen and includes Honors College faculty and SGA President Tavana Farzaneh as a student representative. 

The committee for the Vice President for Health Sciences Research was the final committee to be approved. The position oversees and manages administration for all research activities conducted through the OU Health Sciences Center and OU Health, according to the agenda. The search committee includes members of the OU College of Medicine, Nursing, Dentistry and the OU-HSC campus. 

An item surrounding the planning process for the Student Affairs Master Plan was approved by the regents. Harroz said this item is meant to optimize the use of space where students can gather.

The Board of Regents voted to approve the university's entrance into negotiations with Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company to serve as the university’s third-party administrator and network provider for self-funded medical programs. Active employees and pre-Medicare retirees at the three OU campuses would start their medical and prescription drug plan administration Jan. 1, 2022, with the option to renew for four additional one-year periods before Dec. 31, 2026.

Harroz said Cigna Health was the "highest ranked option" and the partnership will allow the university to refrain from raising its rates for the coming year.

Julie Ward, an associate professor at OU, asked to address the regents directly before they exited into executive session. She said her heart is broken because she feels administration has left faculty and staff to their own devices.

She asked the regents to listen to an open letter written by OU's chapter of the American Association of University Professors Aug. 12. The letter has amassed over 500 signatures and was included in the OU Days of Action website. The group of advocates defined Sept. 20 and 21 as a "call to action" with faculty and student walkouts. 

Director of Graduate Studies in OU's English Department Amit Baishya said he watched COVID-19 "wreak havoc" in his home country of India. He asked the regents to enact policy to ensure the safety of his students. He said he fears entering his class, as he might bring the virus back to his infant student. 

A parent of an OU student said the regents needed to go back and discuss why some professors are canceling classes to have a protest, when they should do that on their own time. Keating clapped following the three individuals' statements.

Editor's note: This article was updated at 10:06 a.m. on Sept. 21 to reflect the proper spelling of Paul Mullasseril's name.

assistant news managing editor

Jillian Taylor is a journalism junior and assistant news managing editor at The Daily. Previously, she served as a summer editor-in-chief, news editor, senior culture reporter and senior news reporter.

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