I first heard those buzzwords when I was a sophomore in 2019. As a journalist, the rush of countless discussions and demonstrations related to OU’s uncertain financial position led me down a lot of rabbit holes. I can’t begin to tell you how many times in the last few years I’ve opened up one of OU’s budget books or felt my eyes glaze over while staring at spreadsheets filled with numbers.
Then, COVID-19 hit. The closure of dining and residence halls combined with lost parking fees cost OU millions. Although some grace measures, such as a temporary pause on “budget reductions” were put in place, OU’s Board of Trustees still authorized the use of $65 million from its reserves through the 2024 fiscal year. Some upper administrators, such as former OU President Duane Nellis, took voluntary pay cuts.
Despite the hardships COVID-19 has put on OU — and virtually every other institution of higher education — the university was projected in December 2021 to end Fiscal Year 2021 with a surplus of $42.6 million.
Though CARES Act funding was partially attributed as a reason for that surplus, some in the OU community have expressed confusion and anger as to why mass layoffs and other financial decisions have been followed through on in light of the pandemic, this surplus and other promising university trends, like increased enrollment.
To help cut through some of this confusion, and to better give an understanding of OU’s budget position and how we got here, The Post presents “The Budget Issue.”
In these pages — or on our special landing page online — you’ll find a mix of explainers, reported articles, commentary and data visualization all meant to give context, nuance and perspective on the past and present standings of OU’s budget. For older Bobcats, we hope this issue reminds you of how our campus responded to financial concerns before the pandemic hit while also educating you on where we are today. Newer Bobcats may not have heard about the “budget crisis” or know about all the student advocacy that broke out a mere two years ago. We hope this issue arms you with the knowledge to fully understand the budget situation and how it impacts different facets of our campus community.
Our news editors, Ryan Maxin and Emma Skidmore, dived into why student movements advocating against budget cuts have died down on campus. Maxin also wrote about how many new and current students did not research OU’s budget before choosing to come here, and multiple news reporters have data included in their stories to give a more visual picture of OU’s finances.
Conversations related to the budget can be complex. This situation is not explicitly good or bad, nor is it black or white. While some individuals we talked to for this issue wouldn’t say OU is in a “budget crisis,” many did express concerns over what further reductions may be necessary for OU to stabilize financially. That’s a perspective more than worth exploring.
I’m incredibly proud of the news, opinion, projects, design, coding, copy and photography staff members who have played a role in this issue. We hope this issue helps inform our university community and empowers them to use their voice in budgetary discussions that continue to impact us all.