While Oklahoma Dawdles, Its Universities Rot

<好色先生TV>Even in the reddest of states, higher-ed reform doesn鈥檛 come easy.

[Editor鈥檚 note: The following article continues the Martin Center鈥檚 series on the status of higher-ed reform in states of interest to our readers. Please read our reports on Tennessee, Florida, Arizona, and West Virginia. And check this space regularly for updates on reform efforts in South Dakota and elsewhere.]

When accepting the Heritage Foundation鈥檚 2024 Salvatori Prize on May 22, Chris Rufo remarked that state legislatures in red states such as Oklahoma need to start exercising oversight of their public universities.

He鈥檚 right. 鈥淭here is an endemic rot of indoctrination, politicization, and intellectual intimidation,鈥 Joel Gardner observed on this website in 2020, 鈥渢hat is eviscerating the historical purpose and nature of our institutions of higher learning.鈥 This remains true today and not just in elite institutions. The rot is even in public universities in Oklahoma, one of the reddest states in the nation.

Fortunately, with Republicans in possession of supermajority control of both houses of the legislature and holding all statewide elected offices, higher-ed reform is possible here, right?

The most effective reform would be for Oklahoma to reduce appropriations to higher education.Proposed Reforms聽

The most effective reform, for starters, would be for Oklahoma鈥檚 political leaders to send a message to regents and college presidents by reducing appropriations to higher education. Unfortunately, Oklahoma鈥檚 legislative session ended on May 30, and higher education received a hefty funding boost.

Public choice theory provides a possible clue here: Soon-to-be-former lawmakers sometimes want 鈥.鈥

How about rolling back DEI? Both the University of Oklahoma (OU) and Oklahoma State University (OSU) have more than history faculty, and indeed 鈥渄iversity鈥 is a key part of OU鈥檚 . Even Oklahoma鈥檚 are not immune. As Florida, Texas, and other states are making progress on this front, an Oklahoma state senator from Norman filed aimed at eliminating DEI practices in higher education. None of the bills received a committee hearing. To his credit, Gov. Kevin Stitt did issue an on DEI. OU responded with some cosmetic changes鈥攚ith the university president assuring everyone that 鈥渘obody鈥檚 losing their job鈥濃攚hile Oklahoma State University鈥檚 president responded by saying, 鈥渁n initial review indicates that no significant changes to our processes or practices are needed.鈥

Another proposed reform attempted to wire around the wokerati by creating a workforce-scholarships program in the state Department of Commerce, which 鈥渃ould provide students with $10,000 a year towards tuition and fees if they enroll in a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) program,鈥 as Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA) president Jonathan Small . This 鈥渃ould pay for students to attend not just public universities, but also for-profit and private colleges, expanding opportunity for Oklahoma youth and boosting the number of potential graduates in high-need fields.鈥 The reform was not enacted.

Another reform suggested by Small would have allowed for 鈥渁 private cause of action, with attorneys鈥 fees and punitive damages allowed for winning plaintiffs, for any student who faces illegal discrimination at schools that continue to endorse DEI radicalism.鈥 Providing a link to , Small argued that 鈥渋t鈥檚 time to subject university employees to private civil liability when they disobey the law and violate people鈥檚 rights. Personnel is policy, and it has become abundantly clear that many Oklahoma college officials will not give up their obsessions with bizarre racial and gender theories unless the schools and the officials personally face severe sanctions.鈥 This reform also was not enacted.

Another proposed reform that has gone nowhere is simple budget transparency. 鈥淲hat each 鈥榖udget unit鈥 requests and receives is the real budget鈥攖he budget the social-justice activists don鈥檛 want to expose to outside scrutiny,鈥 David Randall has for OCPA.

Policymakers should require each public university to publish prominently on its website a collated annual report of the requested budget and approved budget of each budget unit within the higher education institution鈥攊n other words, the budget that each department and administrative office requests and receives. Each of these budget units should provide their spending not just by broad IPEDS data divisions such as instruction, research, and student services, but also by listing categories including individual salaries, benefits, travel expenses, equipment and supplies, honoraria, scholarships, sponsored events, and revenues received from external grants.

In short, state policymakers have no real interest in reforming higher education. But how about enacting change at the university level? After all, Gov. Stitt, a conservative Republican, has appointed all seven of the current regents at the University of Oklahoma. Perhaps some Ron DeSantis/New College of Florida-style reform is forthcoming?

Oklahoma policymakers have no real interest in reforming higher education.Alas, no. The chairman of OU鈥檚 board of regents donated $25,000 to a Joe Biden super PAC, if that tells you anything. The current university president is someone who worked for Democrat politician (and former OU president) David Boren for two decades. A or Ben Sasse is nowhere in sight.

Indeed, the flagship university in this oil-and-gas red state remains as as ever. How to Blow Up a Pipeline was in one English course this spring, while the university was also looking to hire a 鈥溾 professor whose research is 鈥渙riented to social action鈥 and specifically toward the transition to green-energy sources. Meanwhile, the university spent more than last year on men in blackface prancing around as hypersexualized caricatures of women. (Just kidding about the blackface part; obviously, offensive and degrading stereotypes would never be permitted on campus.)

Reform from Without?

Perhaps, then, reform can be imposed on universities from the outside. Already, some prominent former donors鈥攊ncluding a neurosurgeon and two members of the Oklahoma Hall of Fame鈥攈ave said enough is enough. As a headline last year on a national FOX News story put it, 鈥.鈥

And it鈥檚 not just donors. Plaintiffs can effect change, too. The organization Speech First secured a this year requiring Oklahoma State University to make significant policy changes, most notably disbanding its Bias Response Team. 鈥淚 hope universities learn from OSU鈥檚 experience that there is a high cost to violating students鈥 constitutional rights,鈥 said Speech First executive director Cherise Trump.

Now it鈥檚 OU鈥檚 turn. As FOX News on May 15, 鈥淪tudents at the University of Oklahoma on Wednesday filed a class-action lawsuit alleging the school violated their equal-protection-clause rights by awarding students financial aid on the basis of race.鈥 According to the complaint, 鈥渞acial preferences continue to exist at the University of Oklahoma. Rather than determining who to admit based on their race, the University of Oklahoma determines how much financial aid it gives to students based on their race. That is unlawful.鈥 Furthermore:

A statistical analysis of publicly available data indicates that the University of Oklahoma considers race when awarding financial aid to its students. Based on the University of Oklahoma鈥檚 published enrollment data and the financial-aid data that it reported to the Department of Education from 2009 to 2022, statistical analysis shows that black students receive more institutional grant aid from the University of Oklahoma than other students, even when controlling to the extent possible for factors such as family income.

This statistical analysis provides evidence of the extent of discrimination stemming from affirmative action policies in university grants that benefit some favored group (in this case, black students) and harm other disfavored groups (in this case, non-black students). The analysis uses data at the university-year level regarding the net price of tuition at the institution, the proportion of students enrolled from a group that appears to receive beneficial treatment, and measures of the family income of enrolled students.

According to the complaint, an OU admissions official told one of the plaintiffs that 鈥渇inancial aid was generally not available to students like her, but would have been if she were African American.鈥

To reverse the rot in higher education, donors and plaintiffs may have to lead the way. Oklahoma鈥檚 elected officials and regents seem blissfully unconcerned.

Brandon Dutcher is senior vice president at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a free-market think tank in Oklahoma City.