About a third of the faculty were gathered together for a last-minute faculty meeting at which Oklahoma Christian University President Mike O'Neal announced his decision to move forward with the Masters of Science in Engineering program.
O'Neal's decision will go in the history books for many reasons.
Many students and faculty on campus are excited about the new program and the possibilities it will open for the university. However, there are others on campus who are upset, not about the introduction of the MSE program, but about how O'Neal has handled the faculty's "no" vote on the MSE proposal in November.
"I do wish there had been some mechanism by which there had been another faculty vote or gone to the graduate council for further discussion," Chair of the Department of History and Political Science John Maple said. "However, I understand Dr. O'Neal's position 'to delay is to loose the opportunity for income.' It's a judgment call. When you get into judgment you will have differences in opinion."
As long as many faculty members can remember, a president has never overturned a vote of the faculty. The faculty has been responsible for review and advisement of all academic matters and is responsible for voting on all changes to departments, courses and curriculum, typically with little to no resistance from the administration.
"I think it was a momentous day and I told [Dr. O'Neal] so. He has claimed a collaborative involvement and this puts that image in shambles," Professor of Biology Mike Gipson said. "It seems to me a patriarchal deal. It's like when a mommy and a daddy let their children say what they want about subjects, but when the decision comes to be made, the parents have to make it."
Many faculty members are concerned about the process or the lack of process in O'Neal's decision.
I understand why President O'Neal wants to implement a new degree program, but I deeply regret that he has chosen to do so in spite of the opposition of a majority of the OC faculty. The faculty – not the administration – governs curriculum matters. That fact is clearly stated in the Bylaws of Oklahoma Christian University and the Faculty Handbook," Professor of Music Ken Adams said. "It also appears in the Constitution of the Faculty Association, which the administration agreed to during my term as the first president of the faculty association."
One section of the Faculty Association constitution that will be under deep scrutiny describes the purpose of the Faculty Association.
It states: "In the area of academic policy and decision making, as prescribed by the Higher Learning Commission and the Bylaws of Oklahoma Christian University, the actions of the Faculty Association are final [PIC] subject to the approval of the Vice President for Academic Affairs, the President, and the Board of Trustees."
Later in the same paragraph it states: "This provision does not preclude the Board of Trustees or the administration from setting academic policy in the absence of clear and timely direction from the Faculty Association."
Some faculty saw this as the reasoning behind O'Neal's decision. He took the faculty's advice but made final approval on the matter. Others looked to the "clear and timely" statement and said O'Neal should have continued to work with the faculty and go through the proper channels to set up the new program.
"I have asked the President to reconsider this decision and to bring it back to the faculty, consistent with our current policy," Adams said.
The current president of the Faculty Association and the incoming president, Len Feuerhelm and Don Leftwich, went to O'Neal and advised him that the matter needed to go back to the Graduate Council, which is the campus committee in charge of graduate programs.
"If you spend months, like we did, listening to presentations and tweaking figures you would think [the engineering department and administration] could make a good enough case that the faculty would say, 'OK go ahead with it,'" Gipson said.
After his decision, there were rumors that O'Neal didn't explain to the Board of Trustees that he was making the decision despite the faculty turning the proposal down.
However, Don Millican, a Chairman of Oklahoma Christian's Board of Trustees, made it clear that O'Neal did present his decision on the MSE program to the Board. O'Neal also informed them this decision would be contrary to the vote of the Faculty Association.
"He was not required to gain approval by the Board as it is within the authority of the president to make such a decision unless a decision violates established Board policy, which this decision does not," Millican said.
Though this was going to be a controversial decision, O'Neal reaffirmed his commitment to the faculty and his appreciation of them and their work in the university.
"I ask that you not interpret the decision to move forward with the MSE as a rejection or even a reduction in my support for faculty involvement in the direction and governance of this place. I affirm to all of you my commitment to collaboration, to listening and to thoughtful and respectful consideration of every voice, while also carefully exercising the stewardship, responsibility and authority placed in me by the Board of Trustees," O'Neal said.
Some professors feel that the real issue is being clouded by statements of renewed collaboration.
"The predictions that the MSE will be a great asset for OC or the calls for faculty congeniality avoid what to me is a fundamental issue of ethics. In order to achieve a desired goal, the President violated established policy. I do not believe that action is consistent with the mission of Oklahoma Christian University," Adams said.
However, many other faculty members echoed O'Neal's sentiments for a renewed cooperation among the faculty.
Joe Watson, professor of electrical engineering, would like to see everyone living peaceable with each other. Robert Mitchell, associate dean of the college of professional studies, felt the faculty needed to cooperate more and believes the engineering faculty will do all they can to work with the entire faculty to resolve this issue.
The fact that this may cause some faculty to lessen their trust in O'Neal is apparent, but many others hope to remind the faculty of the difference between O'Neal and any other president.
"Dr. O'Neal has supported greater faculty involvement in strategic planning than any previous president. He has supported the faculty senate, and he has acted with respect for faculty views," Professor of English Bailey McBride said. "His decision is reasonable, but it is unfortunate that the situation developed as it has."
O'Neal also expressed his concerns and sympathies with the liberal arts faculty saying he would address their needs with the same passion as he has given the new programs over the past few years. Though some faculty members don't see this, those who have had many discussions with O'Neal, on that subject, understand his position.
"For Dr. O'Neal [the arts vs. engineering] isn't an either/or, it's a both/and," Maple said.
Despite the dark cloud hovering over this decision, there is great potential in the formation of the new program, and many students and faculty are optimistic.
"I feel the masters' degree program will be something to add to the overall quality of our program. It will help us be more competitive with surrounding universities from a recruiting standpoint. Hopefully, this will enrich the program by bringing in some higher level students maybe even locally from industry," Associate Professor of Computer Engineering Pat Smith said.
The MSE program will be working closely with IT to establish top quality long distance learning programs. They are currently looking into using Adobe Connect as a way to reach places like Tinker Air Force Base.
"We've got to start slowly and deliberately. We have promised not to cost or require any additional university resources. I'm still hoping that in the fall we can do something in a small way," Mitchell said.
Seniors Marshall Warren, Stephen Swanson and Virginia Crawford had planned to stay at Oklahoma Christian for their masters' degree but had to change their plans after the faculty voted "no" on the MSE proposal.
Despite the setback in their personal plans, they all remain positive about the future of Oklahoma Christian and the MSE program.
"This change will be an enormous step for our university because it will fortify OC's reputation as not only a strong liberal arts university, but a strong technical school as well," Warren said.
The MSE program will also align with recent degree audit changes in the engineering department.
"The department will benefit because of the recent consolidation of the bachelors degree which was designed so that engineers can be at school for five years and graduate with both a BS in engineering and a MSE," Crawford said.
Other students also understand the monetary implications this program brings.
"A lot of things President O'Neal does seem to be kind of forward-thinking. There have been a lot of donors that have given to the school and have been alumni from the engineering program. There is also the prospect of places like Tinker Air Force Base possibly sending people to OC's programs and [Tinker] pays for it," Swanson said.
Though this was a major point made by those presenting the MSE program, there is still doubt left in the minds of many faculty members.
"What I'm going on is 31 years at the university, in which program after program has said 'it won't cost, it won't take away from the university.' Then unforeseen elements emerge. I think there are so many things in the core departments, most of the departments in the college of Arts and Sciences, that have done without for so long and I'd like to see more put there, and I'm afraid that the MSE will take away from them," Maple said.
As things continue to develop, the administration and engineering department hope to attract new students and maintain current students within the program. Some underclassmen already see benefits to doing their masters' work at Oklahoma Christian.
"With OC offering a Master's program, it offers many benefits, such as staying at OC, already knowing the professors and the familiar OC environment," sophomore Mark Trudgen said.
O'Neal recognized that everyone would not "see eye to eye" on such an important decision as this, but it is agreed upon by everyone that we as a campus community should do all we can to be cooperative and understanding through this period of time.
There are sure to be more decisions along the way about the specifics of this new program, but for now the MSE program is approved and the wheels are in motion to start offering courses as early as this fall.
The following student opinion article also appeared in the Talon on Friday, April 11, 2008. After reading it, feel
free to comment below and let us know your thoughts on OC's decision to
add an Engineering Masters program.
O'Neal's legacy decision
By Joshua Bam
After informing the Board of Trustees about the decision he had come
to, Mike O'Neal stood before less than half of the school's faculty on
Tuesday night and told them that their vote last fall was the wrong one.
In a move unprecedented by an Oklahoma Christian University president
in over 40 years, O'Neal reversed the vote of the faculty and declared
that a Masters of Science in Engineering program would soon be offered
He told the crowd of staff and faculty that the program is expected to
pay for itself in only one year, but that the decision was final and he
wasn't there to listen to arguments, only to take questions.
It was a strange realization of the psuedo-democracy that seems taken for granted at the school.
Suddenly the line had been pulled taut and the true power behind the
school stepped forward and declared that the future of Oklahoma
Christian was headed in a certain direction whether anyone liked it or
Even the professors who had voted for the MSE program couldn't
understand why O'Neal had called for a faculty vote and then ignored it
The faculty may have not supported the engineering program because of
the mass amounts of money engineering consumes or because of the timing
of the program, but no one had ever said that the program would never
be a good step for the school. It was never the end that worried
professors, it was the means.
What's so bizarre about the announcement was that the meeting was
voluntary, last minute, and final. The invitation reeked of triviality,
and so when less than half of the faculty made an appearance, Mike
O'Neal was ready to reveal the truth about who was really in charge.
It was a vote of no-confidence in the faculty. Our forefathers penned a
system of checks-and-balances into the government they established, but
the political system is drastically different on the campus of Oklahoma
How strange that a single man can stand before the faculty of an
academic institution and dictate his mandate to them with no fear of
being challenged or questioned.
If this had been true for the French in 1789 the Third Estate would
have sat back and watched as the First and Second Estate exploited them
If neither the faculty, nor the student body, nor the Board of Trustees
can keep this sort of power in check, how could anyone expect Oklahoma
Christian to be an organization that respects its members wishes and
honors the community of donors and advisors who offer their opinions as
If one man controls the school at will, it becomes a dictatorship that
is neither good for its members nor for the school itself. A school
directed by the visions of a single individual will never accomplish
anything but what Mike O'Neal wants to accomplish.
Is mock voting and quasi interest in opinions necessary as a ploy to
feign democracy? It's embarrassing to the school and an insult to the
professors who work and play here that one man's opinion can supersede
theirs whenever the vote doesn't cast just right.
It's modern-day taxation without representation. The Boston Tea Party
may never have made history had all its participants sat back and
allowed themselves to be exploited.
What kind of institution do you attend? Is it one where the faculty is
belittled and the future of the school is held in the hands of one
academic Rambo? It appears so.