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Stifled scholars

TU cuts threaten graduate students and research



Lauren Haygood, a graduate student at TU, wears the names of programs cut by the university’s “True Commitment” plan.

Greg Bollinger

Much has been said of the damage to undergraduate programs under the University of Tulsa’s “True Commitment” plan to drastically cut its degree and certification programs—but, as is frequently the case, graduate students and studies are often left out of the picture. Among the graduate programs being cut are master’s degrees in Native American law, energy law, fine arts, women’s and gender studies, geosciences, mathematics, as well as many doctorate degrees.

In addition, the university will lose teaching assistantships and other benefits conferred by the presence of graduate students. Many students find that TAships and research assistantships help build relationships between undergraduates and graduate students, and the weakening of that bond is one of the many ripple effects anticipated by critics of the plan.

Some fear that the university will lose credibility in the eyes of the academic community. “Let’s say they restore assistantships next year,” said Dr. Jacob Howland, McFarlin Professor of Philosophy. “Well, they took them away the year before. Do you think they have shown commitment to the program?”

Even though the university says that only 6 percent of students will be affected, many feel that negative effects from cutting graduate programs will degrade the quality of TU’s educational experience as a whole. Howland pointed out that 40 percent of programs will be cut, likening the effects to killing 40 percent of species in an ecosystem. Even if that only accounted for 6 percent of individuals, the effects of that die-off could ripple far beyond.

In programs where graduate degrees have been cut, tenured professors will have to teach more low-level courses. This will increase the number of students in each class, according to Howland. “Our attention for students is just going to decrease in that case,” he said. “Because we’re simply not going to have the time.”

Graduate students like Caleb Freeman, who started working toward his master’s in English last year, feel undervalued by the university. “We’re human resources. We’re there to be used up,” Freeman said. “We’re contract workers. Even though we’re getting an education we’re there to teach those comp courses and run the writing center and to provide a service to the university.” This comes during a national push among graduate students for unionization as they face low pay, long hours, and universities that take their labor for granted. Professorships are also increasingly scarce.

“Personally I wouldn’t be where I am today without the encouragement of my TAs,” geosciences graduate student Avery Johnson said. “They’re the ones that really pushed me to pursue this degree and this path.”

The university also stands to lose prestige from research done by graduate students and professors. Previous university presidents have aspired for TU to be among the best research schools in the country. This goal will not be attainable after the cuts, as the university will no longer have enough yearly Ph.D. graduates to be considered a major research university.

“How are you gonna attract students to pay $41,698 tuition when in-state they could go to OU or OSU, which are major universities which have all these programs they’ve been cutting?” Howland said.

The change affects departments on campus that champion diversity in their work, like anthropology, geoscience, and the natural sciences. TU’s Anthropology graduates have been doing important research into the Tulsa Race Riot, and the university was also one of the few places where one could pursue a degree in Native American law. “The destruction of these programs is entirely inconsistent with the university’s commitment to diversity,” Howland said. “To me, it looks like hypocrisy.”

The cuts have struck many as inconsistent with TU’s culture and history. Lauren Haygood, a student in TU’s cut Accelerated Master’s in Geosciences program, mourns the loss of programs like Religion and Native American law. “Those are part of TU’s history. They started out as a Presbyterian school for Indian girls, and they’re cutting religion, and they’re cutting Native American law. They’re removing part of TU’s identity.”

Some fear that it will take a long time to rebuild the academic community that has been shaken by the “True Commitment” plan. Howland compares it to Notre Dame. “It took 200 years to build the cathedral. You can burn it down in a day.”

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