NORMAN — Try to call any professor in the University of Oklahoma's Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, and you're bound to be disappointed.
For the past several years, the department has been looking for ways to trim costs in response to several rounds of budget cuts. As the department's budget continues to shrink, administrators tried to identify the cuts that students would feel the least.
One solution they found, said department Director Randa Shehab, was pulling telephones out of faculty offices.
“It's been a little bit of a learning process,” she said.
The department removed faculty members' phones in January.
The move saved about 30 percent of the department's maintenance and operations budget, Shehab said, which is normally devoted to things like copiers, paper and classroom supplies.
Since then, Shehab said, faculty members have been scrambling to find alternate ways to communicate with their contacts. In general, she said, email and cellphones are a serviceable replacement. But when research partners in private industry or other institutions try to call, she said, they often wind up confused.
“They're surprised by the fact that our faculty don't have phones,” she said.
Cost-cutting measures like that one aren't unique, OU President David Boren said.
As OU has seen about $100 million in cuts and unfunded cost increases over the past three years, the university's individual colleges have had to absorb roughly 18 percent budget cuts.
The Oklahoma higher education system has seen its budget slashed 9.4 percent over the past four years.
In that period, OU has raised its undergraduate in-state tuition 8.8 percent. Oklahoma State University has raised its tuition 9.2 percent in the same period.
Boren said he's worried further cuts could be ahead. With the May 25 budget deadline looming, Gov. Mary Fallin urged lawmakers Thursday to come up with a significant cut to Oklahoma's personal income tax — a move Boren warned could undermine state efforts to ramp up college graduation rates.
In February, OU announced a six-year graduation rate of 67.8 percent for the freshman class of 2005 — the highest ever posted by an Oklahoma public university. Boren warned continued cuts to higher education could dismantle that progress.