UCO faculty
The University of Central Oklahoma's Old North Tower is located at Old North on UCO's campus in Edmond. (Michael Duncan)

University of Central Oklahoma President Patti Neuhold-Ravikumar announced today that 30 vacant faculty positions will be eliminated for the 2022-2023 academic year in attempt to address a $15 million budget deficit. The Edmond-based university, however, will retain all full-time faculty members for the upcoming year, which is contrary to the university’s plan announced in March.

UCO will also be requesting that the Regional University System of Oklahoma Board of Regents approve a tuition increase of 3 percent or $6.82 per credit hour. In addition, UCO will be changing its budgeting practices over its end-of-year carryover funds.

UCO Vice President for Communications and Public Affairs Adrienne Nobles provided NonDoc with a copy of an email Neuhold-Ravikumar was sending to university employees and students:

Dear Fellow Bronchos,

The university community is nearing the completion of its annual budget for the coming fiscal year with a focus on the long-term financial stability of the institution. We now await our final appropriation amount to be determined by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education. This information is expected near the end of the legislative session on May 27.

We knew going into the planning process there would be tough decisions to be made as we worked to address the university’s budget deficit, particularly related to faculty positions at the university. Academic Affairs leadership, the college deans and the President’s Cabinet have worked diligently to minimize the loss of jobs while working to erase this deficit. My deepest gratitude is extended to these leaders who courageously led through this process. Thanks to our collaborative efforts, no filled faculty positions will be eliminated from the budget for the 2023 fiscal year.

To address the estimated $15 million budget deficit for next year, we will implement:

• Change in budgeting practice for carryover funds.
• Request a tuition increase of 3% or $6.82 per credit hour. This will help cover approximately 80% of our mandatory cost increases next year. For a student taking a full course load of 12 hours, this means an increase of just over $81 per semester.
• Eliminate 30 vacant faculty positions. Although this action is intended to improve our financial position by balancing resources in the classroom, this action also is anticipated to result in significant savings that will help the university reduce the budget deficit. This makes progress toward our goal to increase our student to faculty ratio from our current ratio of 15.5:1 to 17:1. Again, no filled faculty positions will be eliminated from the budget for the 2023 fiscal year.

This approach was developed with the spirit of transparency, collaboration and engagement introduced during last year’s planning process, including sharing data and information within and across the institution to ensure voices were heard and incorporated into the planning. Examples of this engagement include numerous meetings with Faculty Senate and Staff Senate leadership, presentations at full senate meetings, meetings with UCO Student Association leadership and a campuswide budget forum. The heightened level of transparency also meant there was a level of ambiguity throughout the process that was uncomfortable for some. The uncertainty has been difficult to navigate this semester.

I am grateful that so many of our faculty and staff have continued to keep our students as the focus of their work each day. It is this unyielding devotion that assures me we will make it through this difficult time.

We still have challenges ahead. Our entire campus community will be needed to rally support around our returning students to give them the best chance at success here at UCO. This includes supporting and trusting each other as we make decisions that safeguard our university for future generations of students. Our students deserve our best and our colleagues – faculty, staff and administration – deserve our best.

This place and our vision are built on hope that can withstand even the toughest conditions. Now more than ever we need to demonstrate a spirit of unity and collaboration within our campus to create an atmosphere that invites others in.

Our commitment to each other and our mission gives our students and our community a reason to join us and a dream to share.

Honor Bronze and Blue,

Patti Neuhold-Ravikumar
UCO President

Asked how UCO may be able to address its budget issues without cutting full-time faculty, Nobles said “there is still work to be done.”

“The budget plan for FY 23 is the result of collaboration and more faculty vacancies than expected. There is still work to be done, as we will have a remaining deficit heading into planning for the next fiscal year,” Nobles wrote in an email. “The overall approach UCO is taking for the FY 23 budget, including the elimination of 30 vacant positions, makes progress toward reducing the university’s budget deficit. The remaining deficit will be filled with one-time funds to balance the budget for FY 23.”

Noble also noted that the actual remaining deficit is contingent on legislative appropriations and enrollment.

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UCO previously considered full-time faculty cuts

Rumors surrounding university budget cuts circulated for months prior to a March 24 budget forum where Neuhold-Ravikumar told staff members and students that more than 40 faculty positions would be cut, vacant faculty positions would be eliminated and that the student-to-teacher ratio would be increased from 15-to-1 to 17-to-1.

At the budget forum, Neuhold-Ravikumar also proposed an academic service fee that could generate about $2 million in revenue to offset faculty cuts.

Neuhold-Ravikumar said during the budget meeting that $8 million of the $15 million deficit would be addressed by the university changing its budgeting practices in regards to its end-of-year carryover funds, leaving the remaining $7 million to be covered from layoffs and increased fees.

These cuts were announced to soften the blow of the university’s enrollment numbers, which have decreased nearly 20 percent since 2017.

A few weeks after the budget meeting, protesters marched on the Edmond campus to the Old North Tower’s administrative offices to denounce the university’s initial plan to cut full-time faculty members.