Two Tulsa legislators are asking the State Regents for Higher Education to delay a January 15th public hearing on the future of Rogers University, saying the Regents have yet to provide RU students and stakeholders with a specific proposal outlining their plans for Tulsa higher education.
"It's difficult to hold a public hearing when no one really knows what the proposal is or how it would work. How can we ask students and the people of Tulsa to offer input on an idea if they haven't been told what it is? I agree with the students who want the hearing postponed," asked Senator Penny Williams.
"I'm afraid we've been down this road before where Tulsa was told one thing by the State Regents and then given another. The only way to avoid another 'bait and switch' situation is to delay the public hearing until a specific proposal is in written legislation," said Senator Charles Ford.
At their December meeting, the Regents voted to seek input on a general proposal that would expand the power of OU and OSU in Tulsa and ultimately make Rogers University a four-year school in Rogers and Mayes County.
Because any alteration of the current RU consortium would require legislative approval, Senators Williams and Ford requested specific language from the State Regents for use in a bill in the upcoming 1998 session. They made their first request in November and sent a follow-up request December 22nd, but never received any such language from the Regents' staff.
"We've been pressing them for a specific legislative proposal and they've kept assuring us they want to work together, but we haven't gotten anything resembling language that is essential for legislation. I don't understand what the delay is," said Senator Williams, noting that the Legislature's bill filing deadline is just days away.
"I don't necessarily think it's the case, but there's an appearance that the Regents aren't really that interested in the public's input in Tulsa. Either that or they really don't know what they want to do here. The fact that we don't have a bill yet leaves a lot of unanswered questions," said Senator Ford.
Williams, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, pointed out that in a recent agreement signed by the Tulsa legislative delegation, area lawmakers pledged not to consent to changes in the current RU structure unless it was specifically demonstrated that the changes would improve higher education access in Tulsa.
"In our 'Contract with the Consumers,' we promised the students that we wouldn't trade the system we have now for something sight unseen. Given the fact that we haven't seen the Regents' bill language yet, I don't see how we can go forward with a public hearing. It would violate the 'Contract,'" said Senator Williams.
The Tulsa legislators aren't the first people to request a delay in the January 15th public hearing. The Rogers University Board of Regents and RU students have also asked that it be postponed.
Senators Ford and Williams are calling on the State Regents to postpone the January hearing, draft the necessary legislation and then reschedule the hearing at least two weeks after the bill language is made public and distributed in Tulsa.
"I don't see what the rush is. Delaying the hearing until we have specific legislation for people to review seems like a pretty common sense approach," said Senator Ford.