East Central University will eliminate 13 faculty and staff positions, cut six educational programs, suspend four athletic programs and reduce athletic scholarships and academic tuition waivers in the wake of another round of state-mandated cuts to higher education funding.
“Our staff, faculty and executive team have worked hard, and continue to work hard to address very difficult issues facing higher education across the state,” said ECU President John Hargrave.
The university has absorbed $2,251,398 in funding cuts since July 2015, the university said. He said the team working on the problem has concluded the situation is not going to change soon enough to avoid downsizing.
“There’s been a combination of tax credits, tax cuts and falling oil prices that have left Oklahoma in a very difficult budget position,” he said.
Of the 13 positions to be eliminated, 10 are currently open or occupied by faculty and staff members scheduled to retire at the end of the current academic year. Hargrave said the positions are all associated with academic and athletic programs that are being discontinued or suspended.
Included in the educational programs to be cut is the Reach Higher Program — a program designed to help students who left college before completing their degrees. A Russian language minor, physical education teaching certification, the global education program and a kinesiology recreation concentration will all be discontinued.
Also on the chopping block is the Guard Officer Leadership Development program. Administrators said the GOLD program has fallen victim to federal budget cuts and will be discontinued.
Hargrave said the university was notified by the National Guard earlier in the year that funding for the program would be discontinued.
The university’s athletic department will be reorganized, and the men’s and women’s golf and tennis programs will both be suspended for the 2016-2017 school year.
Hargrave said the department will continue to offer those programs required by the Great American Conference and the NCAA, but the university has to save wherever possible.
He said the department has been instructed to reduce athletic scholarships across all programs to levels commensurate with the GAC average.
Administrators said they anticipate another state budget failure in April, and are bracing for an additional fiscal year 2017 budget cut at the university.
“Education has got to be a priority for the state of Oklahoma. We cannot sit back and allow education to be degraded. If we do that, we are giving away our future,” Hargrave said.
“We have never invested at the rate other states have in education, we’ve diminished our investment over the seven years I’ve been here and now we are taking historic cuts in education,” Hargrave said. “Where is the future of Oklahoma if that’s where we’re headed?”
Hargrave said the team tasked with finding ways to reduce spending analyzed participation throughout the university’s programs and identified those with the smallest participation levels.
“While we believe these have been very great programs to have at East Central, they are the most logical for us to reduce,” he said.