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University to Reorganize Academic Structure Effective June 1

Oklahoma Baptist University will reorganize its academic structure from its current six college configuration to nine academic schools and divisions for the 2021-22 academic year. The academic organization changes will provide cost savings, bring more faculty to the leadership table, facilitate better communication between the University’s academic divisions and create a more cost-effective structure to position OBU with a strong foundation for the future.

The current six college structure will remain in place until May 31 with the new structure taking effect June 1. The new structure includes the Warren M. Angell School of Visual and Performing Arts, which will continue to house music, art, theatre and communication; the Herschel H. Hobbs School of Theology and Ministry; the School of Nursing; the Paul Dickinson School of Business; the School of Education; the Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences; the Division of Language and Literature; the Division of Exercise Science, Sports and Recreation; and the James E. Hurley Division of Science and Mathematics. Eleven academic chairs will oversee these areas and report to one of two deans: the Dean of Theology, Arts and Humanities and the Dean of Business, Health Science and Education.

The reorganization of the University’s academic structure came after a thorough study conducted by university administrators, college deans, division chairs and faculty. During the course of the review, the University examined academic organizational structures at similar institutions, assessed the strengths and weaknesses of the current college model, and examined how the application of various structures would impact the university. The study sought to determine what changes might help the University realize annual cost savings while also elevating the role of additional individual academic units for greater shared governance. The review of other institutions indicated that the college structure employed at OBU was more likely to be found at larger institutions, as it adds a layer of administrative leadership which increases costs while distancing the heads of each academic unit from the president and chief academic officer.

While the review happened in consultation with faculty and academic leaders throughout the University, the resulting reorganization plan was shared with all OBU employees in February and then reviewed by the OBU Board of Trustees during its March 5 meeting.

Along with the academic structure review, the University also conducted a thorough examination of its 88 academic degree offerings. It was found that 90% of the university’s student body is enrolled in 50% of the programs, leaving 10% of the student body enrolled in the remaining 50% of the programs. Degree programs with fewer than eight students enrolled were reviewed to determine if they should be continued as is, revised in some way or discontinued. Of the 21 programs that were considered for discontinuation, 13 were recommended for discontinuation either by the academic council or directly by the program’s academic area. These 13 programs were then approved for discontinuation by the president, recommended to the Board of Trustees, and then approved by vote of the Board of Trustees during their March 5 meeting.

While these programs will not be open for future enrollment, all current students will be able to complete the programs in which they are currently enrolled as they will be taught-out to completion. Many of the discontinued programs also have similar programs still available for incoming freshmen.

As student enrollments in colleges and universities have experienced decline and financial difficulties due to the pandemic and other factors affecting the demand for higher education over the last several years, OBU likewise has been impacted by recently decreasing enrollments. This has led the University to implement cost reductions in multiple areas to offset losses in revenue, including reductions in staff, faculty, deans and administrators. In so doing, the University has strived to manage the institution’s budget in a fiscally responsible manner to reduce expenses coinciding with the reduction in revenue.

Even with these reductions, OBU maintains a stellar student-to-faculty ratio of 15-to-1, resulting in small class sizes, personal relationships between students and professors, rigorous academics and myriad opportunities for spiritual and social growth for students.

Dr. Susan DeWoody, provost and chief academic officer, appreciates the diligence, effort and dedication displayed by all who participated in this challenging process.

“The process of studying the current academic structure and determining the best structure for the future of the University was an enormous undertaking,” DeWoody said. “I am beyond grateful for the countless hours given by our deans, chairs, faculty and staff members during the course of this almost two-year process. We believe these structural revisions will help us continue to deliver the same world-class instruction and transformational Christian liberal arts education at Oklahoma Baptist University for generations to come.”

OBU President Dr. Heath A. Thomas shared his gratitude for the entire University community, for their commitment to excellence at OBU and for their dedication to the University’s academic legacy.

“I am grateful to our faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends of the University for their dedication and commitment to our tradition of excellence at Oklahoma Baptist University,” Thomas said. “The last few years have been challenging for higher education at large, not only at OBU, but for all colleges and universities. These challenges were compounded last year by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite all of that, OBU has remained steadfast in our mission to deliver life-changing Christian liberal arts higher education to the next generation of future shapers.

“For 111 years, OBU has welcomed students from throughout the nation and around the world, calling them to come experience life on Bison Hill. And when they come, they find a community that loves and supports them, professors who deepen their biblical worldview in all disciplines, friendships that sustain them through the challenges of college life and beyond, and a life-changing educational experience that will equip them to live out the high calling of God in Christ that was purposed for their lives by the Creator. It is our prayer that through these academic structural changes and other cost saving measures undertaken in recent years, OBU will be positioned to impact students for decades and centuries to come.”

Questions and Answers

Why is the University making these changes?

The academic organization changes will provide institutional cost savings, bring more faculty to the leadership table, facilitate better communication between the University’s academic divisions and create a more cost-effective structure to position OBU with a strong foundation for the future.

Why wasn’t this announcement made sooner?

The academic reorganization has been discussed among OBU stakeholders for nearly two years, with the final structure being announced February 5, 2021 to the university community during University Forum and through internal news releases. We needed to wait to announce any changes to academic program offerings until now for two reasons. First, our board of trustees met March 5 to approve the recommended changes in academic program offerings. To announce the specifics prior to their approval would not be appropriate since until their approval, the changes were merely recommendations. Once the recommendations were approved, students who are enrolled in those programs needed to be contacted to make them aware that although their programs were being discontinued, they would still be able to graduate with their particular major even though incoming freshmen would not be able to enroll in the program. They would also have the option to move into another similar program if they chose to do so.

How was it decided which academic units would be schools and which ones would be divisions?

The delineation between which academic units will be schools and which will be divisions was determined by the number of enrollments in majors within those areas and also with additional consideration given to those with specialized program accreditation.

Why are you reducing the number of programs offered?

In the interest of financial realities and needed efficiencies, the University began studying program enrollment and costs. It was discovered through studying our enrollment data that 90% of the university’s student body is enrolled in 50% of the programs, leaving 10% of the student body enrolled in the remaining 50% of the programs. During the 2019-2020 academic year, the university worked to officially notify programs that had less than eight students enrolled across the four-year experience that they would need to conduct further evaluation of the resources used in their area.  If the faculty in a notified program area desired to retain the programs, faculty were asked to submit justification as to why the low enrollment degree programs should be retained along with proposals for actions to strengthen program enrollments and course rotations. The OBU Faculty Handbook has a process whereby the academic units of the university should pursue ongoing evaluation of programs, including the potential through a process for redirection, discontinuation, etc. The process utilizes a pre-defined Academic Council, consisting of academic deans, division chairs, faculty council officers, assessment and institutional effectiveness personnel, and the provost to evaluate the data and justification information and to vote on several criteria to determine which of the programs should be recommended for action. From there, the action is recommended by the Academic Council to the president, who then reviews the information and makes a recommendation to the Board of Trustees for final decisions. Program changes throughout the university and academic restructure have resulted from these studies to increase efficiencies, reduce redundant programs and deploy university resources in a more efficient manner.

What previous actions has the university taken to reduce expenses?

The University has undertaken cost-saving measures over the past two years, reducing the overall number of staff, administrators and faculty members. These actions have been necessitated by reduced student enrollment numbers. During the fall 2020 semester, the University also announced the reduction of the number of varsity sports by seven, effective for the 2021-22 academic year.

Why has enrollment declined?

Over the last several years, we have experienced a trend in declining enrollment, similar to colleges and universities throughout the nation. This has occurred at the national level, largely due to the thriving economy of recent years (pre-pandemic), low unemployment, demand for more employees in the workforce, and increasing wages. This led to a percentage of students opting to work instead of going to college, impacting universities everywhere. In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States and the world, leading to thousands upon thousands of students to opt for a gap year or an additional year of schooling at the community college level, rather than entering a four-year institution either as a freshman or a sophomore transfer. The ongoing effects of the pandemic have been felt in the current enrollment cycle, delaying students in their college search process as they wait to determine the status of the COVID-19 pandemic and how that will affect their college choices for fall 2021. While we are exhausting all efforts to recruit as many students as possible for next fall’s incoming class, we must manage the University budget in a fiscally responsible manner and be realistic when weighing our expenses against projected revenues.

Which academic programs are being discontinued?

The following academic programs will be discontinued beginning June 1, 2021, but student currently enrolled in any of the programs that follow will be able to graduate from OBU with their intended program of study regardless of this action:

By Faculty Recommendation:

  • Biblical and Theological Studies, Biblical Apologetics Emphasis, BA
  • Biblical and Theological Studies, Philosophy and Theology Emphasis, BA
  • Christian Ministry, Children’s Ministry Emphasis, BA
  • Cross-Cultural Ministry, International Church Planting Emphasis, BA
  • Cross-Cultural Ministry, Orality Emphasis, BA
  • Political Science: International Relations Emphasis, BA
  • Social Entrepreneurship, BBA
  • Accounting: Information Assurance Emphasis, BPA
  • Health and Physical Education, BSE

By Academic Council recommendation:

  • Multilingual Communications, BA
  • Spanish, BA
  • Piano Performance, BM
  • Worship Studies, BM