Clear intentions

After Lamb presidential hire is conducted in near privacy, members of UCO community insist on transparent communication

Todd Lamb will be sworn in as president of UCO July 1, 2023. (AP)

Following protests from UCO’s biggest donor and concerned faculty, and new UCO President Todd Lamb himself stating a preference for clarity in big decisions, the Regional University System of Oklahoma (RUSO) Board of Regents’ selection process is still opaque. 

Marc Goulding, an associate professor of history and geography at UCO and a member of the faculty senate, said an open system will create more trust in the system.   

“If I had to ask one thing of the regents, it is to communicate more with the campus, communicate more with your community,” said Goulding, who is also the president of the local campus chapter of American Association of University Professors and the president-elect of Oklahoma’s statewide AAUP conference.

When RUSO appointed Lamb, Goulding said, it was not done transparently. 

“There is no oversight for the regents,” he said. “The regents are not bound in any way to take into consideration the campus, I mean, that’s simply the fact of it. Whether people want to think I’m trying to pick a fight for saying that, I mean, it’s just the reality that the decision is made behind closed doors by the regents. The committee that’s put together is, indeed, an advisory committee.” 

Goulding said there is no obligation for RUSO to pay attention to the advisory committee’s recommendations. 

“The campus community has no idea who the finalists are,” he said. “The campus community only finds out the person who was appointed and I will point out that’s appointed, not an elected position, when the contract has been signed. So … it’s very definitely a nontransparent process. And to say, RUSO has a right, of course they do. As things stand, whether, you know, I think that that’s a good thing or not, is another question. But I mean, I’m in favor of more transparency. I think most people on campus would say the same. But yeah, sure, they had a right.”

At a time when UCO is still mitigating a budget deficit, according to his contract, Lamb accepted an annual salary of $325,000. Note: Read the full contract here

Neuhold-Ravikumar was paid $303,135 at the time of her resignation. 

With the change in presidents comes a $21,865 pay raise for the position. This number is 7.2% more than former UCO President Patti Neuhold-Ravikumar earned, and Lamb has no previous experience in academia. 

However, Goulding said that Lamb “has a juris doctorate, where Neuhold-Ravikumar did not have a doctorate-level degree,” which could account for the higher rate of pay.  

In April 2022, The Vista revealed the $20 million budget deficit that was justifying a proposed reduction in faculty lines to be the result of strategic accounting. The final number was closer to $8 million in deficit.

Before Neuhold-Ravikumar’s resignation, the administrative plan was to reduce spending by cutting those faculty lines. Fear over the threat of layoffs increased on campus among students as well as faculty and staff, leading to protests and tension-filled town hall meetings.  

In the 2022-23 fiscal budget year, some empty lines were cut and tuition was raised to assist in lowering the deficit. UCO is still attempting to increase enrollment and lower expenditure. 

One award Lamb received while coming from a background in governance and law was the Oklahoma State Regents Distinguished Service Award. 

“His leadership during this difficult budget year was instrumental in providing an increase in funding for higher education, making a tuition freeze possible. Our state system of higher education is very grateful,” said then-Chancellor of Higher Education Glen D. Johnson.

UCO’s faculty senate highlighted transparency and shared governance as goals in previous letters, and the president of AAUP urges the same. Chad Richison’s letter that disavowed political appointees also pointed out another factor that Goulding addressed. Read Richison’s full letter here.

“What our chapter of AAUP articulated was that we were disappointed that it seemed RUSO did not take into consideration what Richison’s letter pointed out that here, you’ve got a person who has no experience in higher education. And that is the main sort of sticking point. Here’s someone who is not coming from higher ed. He’s coming from a very different kind of set of experiences and backgrounds,” Goulding said.

RUSO has stated they do not agree with Richison but defend his right to express his views.

A letter from the faculty senate said, “We also encourage the RUSO to be more transparent about their higher education values and how they see University of Central Oklahoma fulfilling those values.

“We understand the importance of fostering a supportive and inclusive environment for our students, faculty, and staff, and we are committed to working alongside leadership to fulfill our mission and vision,” the letter read.  

Goulding provided insight into the benefits of a more transparent selection process.

They include “more of a campus community sort of having a voice in how, where are we going tomorrow?” he said. “Where’s UCO going to be in five or 10 years is the thing that I keep thinking about.”

Goulding said he has been at UCO now for nearly 10 years and has never planned on leaving. 

“My plan has always been to work here until my working days are over. And so for me, and many, many, not only faculty members, but I think also students and alumni, what is the future of this institution?” Goulding asked. 

The AAUP president described a deep love for the institution that he believes is shared by all faculty, staff and students.

“As a member of the campus community, I’d like to know what people in decision making positions have in mind when they think about the future of UCO when they do things like appoint a president like where do they see this institution going?”

He emphasized clarity as a goal.

He describes how transparency also increases the possibility of teamwork, allowing a “shared discussion about the future of the institution.” Transparency would also allow more buy-in, Goulding said.

“Shared governance, the idea of the community itself coming together to decide upon the direction of the institution to decide upon how the institution is run, is something that’s very central to AAUP’s values. Decisions made behind closed doors, decisions made based not on actual experience, but on other factors seem to me to be antithetical to serving our students,” he said.

Goulding agreed with Richison in his next statement. 

“The idea that, and this came out in the AAUP letter, that, you know, a political appointee is not necessarily going to serve our students well. We need, I would argue, and many of us would argue, we need somebody who’s coming in with higher ed experience,” he said. 

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