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UCO president rejects seat for faculty senate on cabinet

UCO President Patti Neuhold-Ravikumar rejected the faculty senate’s proposal to place one of their representatives on the President’s Cabinet. 

Led by the president, UCO provost and the vice presidents for the departments of advancement, information technology, finance and operations, public affairs, student affairs and university communications sit at the cabinet’s table, the President’s Cabinet has discussions on executive information and decision-making. According to the UCO website, the cabinet’s mission is to “bring perspective from each facet of campus to one table at their weekly meetings. In a spirit of creativity and collaboration, the Cabinet works together to advance the University of Central Oklahoma.” 

This idea of encouraging “creativity and collaboration” from “each facet of campus” is why the proposal seemed beneficial and necessary to members of the faculty senate.

However, President Neuhold-Ravikumar said faculty senate and administration “do not currently appear to share expectations about what constitutes university governance, trust and transparency,” in her letter on Feb. 28. 

“We have received Faculty Senate proposal FSP 2021/2022-002 in the matter of Faculty Senate Representative added to UCO President’s Cabinet. Having conducted with the members of Cabinet, reviewed practices of other institutions, and thoughtfully considered our current university environment, I cannot accept this proposal. I’m concerned about the disruptive nature of introducing a new and unvetted cabinet member every year, and its effect on business continuity, team dynamics, and the quality of executive decision-making; all of which have extensive impact on our university community and direction. Faculty Senate and administration do not currently appear to share expectations about what constitutes university governance, trust and transparency. Without shared expectations of the issues at the core of this proposal, we lack a foundation for even considering it. There is much work to do among us ahead of movement such as what is being proposed.”

The letter’s recipient, Faculty Senate President Jennifer Barger-Johnson, said it is “unfortunate” that the university did not give faculty an opportunity to have direct representation. 

“It is the UCO Faculty Senate’s belief that having a voice there could help alleviate many faculty concerns related to shared governance and transparency on our campus.  It is notable that the subject of this request is not unique, as several of our peers have similar representation on their campuses,” Barger-Johnson said. “Through the pandemic and prior thereto, our faculty, staff, and students have shown extraordinary commitment to UCO, the state of Oklahoma, and the Edmond community. The UCO Faculty Senate has always led our campus with the best interests of the entire campus community in mind. We find the President’s recently issued response disheartening at this time as we have worked diligently to build bridges with this administration.”

Neuhold-Ravikumar’s stated issue with having dissimilar expectations from faculty senators comes after months of discussion over the university’s proposed budget cuts. The estimated $20 million budget deficit led to concerns over faculty cuts, where the administration projected the university would lose about 146 positions. In a meeting in December with the president and faculty senate, some representatives relayed their concerns on how the layoffs impact campus morale. 

“In talking to faculty directly, they’re applying for jobs. They are worried about feeding their family, their children. Some of them put in 25 years here, and are saying, ‘I don’t work for UCO anymore. I’m not proud of this institution. I work for my students,’” Nikki Seagraves, a faculty senate member, said. “And I personally feel the same way.”

Conversations about transparency on campus arose as well, but it is unclear what specific events led to the proposal’s rejection. 

A “special” faculty senate meeting will be held today at 2 p.m. with Vice President of Finance and Operations Kevin Freeman and Assistant Vice President Benjamin Hastings. Another regularly-scheduled faculty senate meeting will be held on Thursday. 

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