State of our university? Russi gets to ‘the point’ on progress, brewing issues

By Staff Editorial

It wasn’t as witty or charismatic of a speech as President Obama’s, but that’s not to say President Gary Russi didn’t get his share of laughter at his annual address to university faculty and staff.

If there’s one thing that can bring together a crowd of administration and union representatives, it’s a joke about how “bad” parking is.

Monday, Russi spoke to a near capacity crowd in the banquet room of the upstairs of the Oakland Center. An invitation for the event was supposedly sent out via e-mail to all staff and faculty of the university. It seemed that few faculty were in attendance compared to the quantity of administrators and staff.

The presentation itself was a little dry, reviewing the same things that were discussed at budget meetings over the summer. Russi spent a lot of time, maybe too much, on the progress that the university has made. Many of the figures were comparing changes made since the mid-1990s, so it wasn’t much of a shocker that enrollment rose since then; or, given the state economy, that funding has gone down.

That was one other thing that garnered a chuckle from the gallery: How the university went from state funded to state “supported.” It’s doubtful that same joke will go over well in Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s State of the State address on Wednesday.

Despite the challenges that the university faces, the outlook looks good; especially considering everyone seems to at least have a sense of humor about those challenges.

Russi assured the audience at several moments, with confidence, that the academic core of the university is being protected. What that means is while professors and university staff members across the nation are facing job loss, OU still guarantees a level of job security. And this is to ensure that the level of education here is to remain and to continue to strive to be top-notch.

Yes, this is also where annual tuition increases come into play, but it is not for the padding of inefficient systems or fattening up of wallets.

Of course some people are getting paid more money than they did a few years ago, but can we really blame them for choosing to work in a field that demands a competitive salary? It’s not as if OU has a high profit margin for tuition. According to slides shown during the speech, we are actually right in the middle when it comes to how much each student pays and how much it costs to support that student.

Many projects that soak up the money from the general budget seem trivial, like redoing the main entrance to the OC because it is “pretty lousy to look at and transport yourself through,” according to administrator John Beaghan.

But many others are necessary upkeep of an aging, much-used campus. Would you like to live in a house that never gets a fresh paint job, has a leaking and decrepit roof, or a city that doesn’t look for ways to improve quality of life?

The presentation ended with a brief question and answer session, which Russi preempted with answers to several questions that have been floating around (see news article). A few productive questions were raised and gave evidence that no leader has all the answers, or even the possibility to know every question unless it’s asked. But all evidence does conclude that Russi is open to suggestions and discussion about the issues, and that we are in good hands.