By Steve Metzer
The Journal Record
OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education have responded with statements of support for Chancellor Glen Johnson after Gov. Kevin Stitt expressed his desire for new leadership within Oklahoma’s higher education system.
In a media report last week, Stitt described universities in Oklahoma as “fantastic” but at the same time “underperforming.” He said a “fresh set of eyes” is needed to improve the outlook of the State System of Higher Education, which has been under Johnson’s leadership for the past 12 years. Stitt’s office did not respond to requests from The Journal Record for clarification of how universities are underperforming or for specifics about changes he’d like to see made.
In a joint statement released Friday, the nine regents pledged to continue working with Johnson but added that they would welcome input from the governor’s office. They affirmed their authority, as provided by the Oklahoma Constitution, to oversee personnel matters, including those applying to Johnson. They said they’ve begun development of a comprehensive succession plan to ensure an orderly transition in the future.
The Oklahoma State System of Higher Education is comprised of 25 colleges and universities, including the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University, 10 regional universities, a public liberal arts university and 12 community colleges. According to the system’s website, the regents approve allocations for each institution, as well as tuition and fees within limits set by the Oklahoma Legislature.
As chancellor, Johnson has been largely responsible for overseeing an annual higher education budget in excess of $1.9 billion as well as the state endowment fund, with a market value of more than $664.2 million. He also oversees the Oklahoma College Assistance Program, which has guaranteed more than a million student loans exceeding $2.5 billion in insured debt.
Johnson has been chancellor since January 2007. Prior to that, he had been president of Southeastern Oklahoma State University. He also served in the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1982 to 1996 and was speaker of the House from 1990 to 1996.
Legislation passed near the start of this year’s legislative session gave the governor broad authority that his predecessors didn’t have to oversee hiring and firing of leaders of major state agencies. That authority was not extended to leadership of the State Regents for Higher Education. By constitutional provision, the chancellor reports to the board of nine members, who are themselves appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate.
In their statement, the regents affirmed their authority over personnel matters.
“The State Regents will carry out our constitutional duties to oversee the personnel matters at the State Regents, including the Chancellor. Personnel decisions are the responsibility of the State Regents,” their statement said.
In a previous release dated Aug. 20, Regents Chair Jody Parker said regents responded that they’ve been pleased with Johnson’s leadership when asked by Stitt about a potential plan for transition.
“We informed the Governor we are focused on hiring a new Vice Chancellor for Budget and Finance following a recent retirement,” the release stated. “Additionally, we informed the Governor that the State Regents and the Chancellor would be developing a comprehensive leadership succession plan to guide us through any future transition. While there is no timeline, we welcome the Governor’s thoughts, and we reiterated our desire to work with him.”
Friday’s joint statement expressed the regents’ appreciation for the support of the governor and Legislature.
“The State Regents will carry out our constitutional duties to oversee the personnel matters at the State Regents, including the Chancellor. Personnel decisions are the responsibility of the State Regents,” the statement said. “That said, let’s be clear, we welcome the Governor to express his thoughts and offer ideas for advancing not only higher education but all of education in Oklahoma. We believe the Governor shares our desire to maintain accessibility and affordability for Oklahoma students, which has been a challenge the past few years as state support significantly declined until the last two legislative sessions. We remain appreciative to the Governor and State Leaders for increasing our appropriation. We appreciate the bipartisan support for the State Regents as we strive to improve educational efficiencies, outcomes, and research efforts. Our commitment to helping our Governor and State Leaders build a more prosperous Oklahoma remains as strong as ever.”
On Aug. 20, Johnson released a similar statement: “I join the State Regents in a willingness to work with Governor Stitt. We appreciate the Governor and Legislature for increasing state support for higher education last session. Keeping college affordable and accessible in Oklahoma, increasing college degree completion, and providing our students with a top-quality education are shared goals we have with the Governor and state leaders. We are ready to work with state leaders and our colleagues in CareerTech and common education to identify and implement educational priorities to move our state forward.”