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OSU, Langston agree to settlement of near two-decade long civil rights dispute

OSU, Langston agree to settlement of near two-decade long civil rights dispute


The roles of Oklahoma State and Langston Universities’ Tulsa campuses are expected to shift dramatically as the result of two agreements announced Thursday.

One, announced by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, will settle a 17-year-old dispute with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. In it, the state regents agree to a $750,000 supplemental allocation to Langston over three years, with the money dedicated to assessment, planning and marketing.

The other agreement is between OSU and Langston and must be approved next week by the Board of Regents for Oklahoma State University and A&M Colleges, which oversees both schools.

Under this agreement, OSU will pay Langston a total of $15 million over 10 years. In return, Langston will discontinue all of its current degree programs in Tulsa except a bachelor’s degree and two master’s degrees in rehabilitative services, and undertake new joint programs with OSU-Tulsa in nursing and Africana studies.

OSU will then “teach out” — that is, take over — Langston’s discontinued programs and be free to offer whatever other programs deemed appropriate by the state regents.

Together, the two agreements are seen as a big step toward resolving a conflict over public higher education in Tulsa stretching back more than 40 years.

“I am pleased that OSU President Hargis recognized the potential of my proposal regarding the future of higher education in Tulsa,” Langston President Kent Smith said in a news release. “When making the proposal, it was important to me to preserve Langston University’s mission within the communities we serve, specifically north Tulsa.

“For us, this academic agreement allows us to focus on our programs of greatest strength and at the same time enhance and expand our nursing program.”

“When President Smith proposed the concept some months ago, I was intrigued by the possibilities for both institutions,” OSU President Burns Hargis said in the same news release.

“This academic agreement will enable both institutions to pursue strategic objectives and to be more responsive long-term to the market’s higher education and workforce needs.”

The Office of Civil Rights agreement sets out a path for closing a complaint lodged in 2002 by Langston’s alumni association and opened in 2003. It maintained Tulsa-Langston had been the subject of discrimination through underfunding and encroachment on its programmatic turf.

The various parties signed an interim resolution in 2009 but no finding has ever been made in the case. If the state meets the conditions of the agreement reached Thursday, the file will be closed no later than June 30, 2023.

The OCR agreement makes possible the OSU-Langston deal, which open the way to a goal long-sought by Tulsa interests — allowing OSU-Tulsa to offer teacher education and business-related programs previously reserved for Langston.

That arrangement dates to the late 1970s, when the state of Oklahoma “integrated” Langston by allowing it to offer classes in Tulsa and Oklahoma City.

A combination of state regents’ policy regarding duplication of programs and the threat of federal civil rights action effectively put Langston in the driver’s seat for public bachelor’s and some master’s degree programs in Tulsa.

Enrollment remained low in many of its programs, however, and for decades civic leaders have advocated allowing OSU and the University of Oklahoma a larger role in Tulsa.

On Thursday, Tulsa Regional Chamber of Commerce President Mike Neal hailed the agreements.

“The partnership between LU and OSU will allow both universities to strengthen their educational programs and resources for their students,” he said in a written statement. “We commend LU President Kent Smith and OSU President Burns Hargis for working together to serve the region’s long-term educational and training needs, and to help grow the talent pool across northeast Oklahoma.”

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Randy Krehbiel


Twitter: @rkrehbiel

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