The Edmond Sun

March 8, 2013

Senator defends bill that changes Langston University’s status in Tulsa

By Van Mitchell
Special to The Sun

GUTHRIE — Langston University officials and a pair of Democratic state senators are calling two measures passed this week by the Oklahoma Senate allowing Oklahoma State University to offer accounting courses at its Tulsa campus unconstitutional.

But, the author of the bills, Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa, said he is pushing forward with the legislation unless he is shown proof that the bills are running afoul of federal law.

Currently, only Langston is allowed to offer courses in accounting, sociology and psychology in Tulsa, Crain said.

Senate Bill 59, which passed 36-10, would allow the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education to establish a baccalaureate degree program in accounting at Oklahoma State University-Tulsa.

SB 58, which passed 35-11, would eliminate the requirement that the Oklahoma A&M Board of Regents establish a branch of the university within the Tulsa metropolitan area. Instead it makes it optional rather than mandatory that Langston University offer courses in Tulsa.

Both measures now go to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Crain said OSU-Tulsa officials have told him that the most requested program students ask for is accounting because OSU has a reputation for having one of the nation’s best accounting programs.

“OSU-Tulsa cannot offer accounting currently because we prohibit them by statute,” Crain said. “We have students in Tulsa getting on a bus and going to Stillwater for classes that they would obviously prefer to take in Tulsa and we are not providing that. What I am trying to do is clear the way so that OSU can offer the programs that the people in Tulsa want to take from OSU.”

Langston University President Kent Smith said in a press release he was disappointed in the measures passing. He did not return phone calls requesting comment by press time.

“I am deeply disappointed with the passage of (these) Oklahoma Senate bills, SB 58 and 59, authored by Tulsa Sen. Brian Crain,” Smith stated. “If the House passes and the governor signs these misguided bills into law, the future of Langston University in Tulsa would be in serious jeopardy. On the surface, these bills might not seem particularly troublesome; however, upon a closer examination, these bills regrettably reveal a veiled attempt to undermine Langston University in Tulsa and threaten its existence.

“The bills are unconstitutional and do not value the significance of the state’s only historically black university. We will put forth an aggressive effort to work with the House of the Representatives where we hope to receive more thoughtful consideration of bills relating to Langston University.”

Sen. Constance N. Johnson, D-Oklahoma City, and Sen. Jabar Shumate, D-Tulsa, said they believe the bills could jeopardize the state’s higher education federal funding.

The senators say that SB 58 and SB 59 remove the mandate for a LU presence in Tulsa and allows for the duplication of Langston University course offerings — both of which are in direct violation of a 1978 agreement with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights mandating that Langston University would have a presence in both Tulsa and Oklahoma City and that its courses would not be duplicated by other universities

The State Board of Regents is currently in negotiations with the U.S. Department of Education to address the state’s being out of compliance with that 1978 agreement.

Sen. Shumate said in a press release this legislation should be defeated in order to allow the State Board of Regents to continue to work on negotiations with the U.S. Department of Education.  

“Those who supported these bills are putting the cart before the horse,” Shumate said. “We need to respect the process and allow the State Regents to continue negotiations with the U.S. Department of Education before we start passing legislation that could negatively impact our federal education funding.”

Sen. Johnson concurred.

“This assault on the historic mission of Langston University with regard to the education of underserved groups is unwarranted,” said Johnson in a press release. “Not only does the passage of these measures put our federal education funding in jeopardy, it also demonstrates disregard for the value that Langston University has brought to our state in educating such populations.”

Crain said he only recently heard complaints about the bills being called unconstitutional.

“These same bills were filed last year,” Crain said. “The thought that these bills were in violation of federal law was not something that I heard until (Wednesday). The title is off these bills. Certainly if someone can present to me evidence that we are about to violate federal law I will certainly look at that. I will need to look at some documentation before I am going to stop pursuing these bills.”

Crain said one of his goals in the Legislature has been to provide a four-year public education program in Tulsa. He said he wants programs that want to be in Tulsa and not because they are required to be there.

“The overall affect is we do not have access in Tulsa to a local college that provides a complete range of four-year public education,” Crain said. “OSU-Tulsa provides some courses but because of the requirements that we have they are limited. Neither program can grow right now because of the way current statutes are written. I want programs in Tulsa that want to be in Tulsa. I want them to be a part of the overall development of Tulsa. I don’t want them to be obligated or forced to present a campus if it is not where they want to be.”  

Crain said there is nothing in his legislation that would keep either school from being in Tulsa.

“There is nothing about any of these bills that prohibits either school from growing or existing,” he said. “I am not eliminating anything. These bills are intended to provide education opportunities in the Tulsa area. They are not intended to be an attack on Langston or OSU.”