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Editorial Roundup: Recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers

April 16, 2019

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

The Oklahoman. April 14, 2019.

— Stitt has chance to impact Oklahoma high court

Gov. Kevin Stitt won election in November as a political outsider but also as a conservative Republican. Will his pending appointments of two Oklahoma Supreme Court justices reflect the latter part of that resume?

It’s hard to know, because unlike at the federal level where the president chooses nominees for the Supreme Court, Oklahoma’s nomination process for appellate court judges is collaborative.

For each of these two openings, Stitt will be given three names provided by the state’s Judicial Nominating Commission, which vets prospects for the state Supreme Court, Court of Civil Appeals and Court of Criminal Appeals.

The 15-person JNC, in place since 1967, has been criticized by Republican lawmakers angered by some Supreme Court rulings in the past several years. These have prompted calls, unsuccessful to date, to change the nominating process in any number of ways; Stitt has said he would like to have more than three nominations at his disposal.

That won’t happen any time soon. Instead, he will work with the names provided him and go from there.

Yet this opportunity is significant because within his first few months in office, Stitt will name as many justices as Republican Mary Fallin did during her eight years as governor.

Fallin’s appointees were Patrick Wyrick in 2017 and Richard Darby in 2018. Wyrick will soon be leaving the court after being approved by the U.S. Senate last week to serve as a federal judge in Oklahoma City.

The other Supreme Court vacancy is being created by Justice John Reif’s retirement at the end of this month. Reif has served since 2007.

These appointments also will set Stitt on a path to potentially impact the court in a way comparable to Democratic Gov. Brad Henry during his eight years in office. Henry appointed six Supreme Court justices — Reif, James Edmondson (in 2003), Tom Colbert (2004), Steven Taylor (2004), Doug Combs (2010) and Noma Gurich (2011). Taylor’s retirement at the end of 2016 created the opening that resulted in Wyrick’s appointment.

The other two justices on the court are James Winchester, appointed in 2000 by Republican Frank Keating, and Yvonne Kauger, appointed in 1984 by Democrat George Nigh. By year’s end, three of the justices will be 70 or older.

Stitt’s appointments will be worth watching because of his promise during the gubernatorial campaign to name justices who share his views against abortion. He was the first of the GOP candidates to state publicly that he would use that litmus test, although he didn’t say how he would carry that out.

As he retired from the bench, Taylor said it wasn’t important whether a Democrat or Republican governor makes the selection. His goal, he said, was “to be a servant of the law.” That’s an excellent guide for Stitt as he makes these two Supreme Court choices and any others that may arise.

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Enid News & Eagle. April 15, 2019.

— Flag project on Van Buren overpass a great way to honor veterans

Once reconstruction of the North Van Buren overpass is completed next year, the span is going to take on a definite patriotic look many days.

Kip Miles, with Enid A.M. AMBUCS, spearheaded an effort — working with Oklahoma Department of Transportation — to get a plan approved to decorate the overpass with more than 80 American flags on holidays and other special occasions.

The overpass also will be named Veterans Memorial Bridge, after ODOT worked with Enid Rep. Chad Caldwell to get the name inserted into legislation.

The idea for the flags is an extension of an existing Enid A.M. AMBUCS project that places more than 130 flags in the downtown business district and along the Van Buren and Garriott corridors on holidays and for community parades and other events.

“I have just really been proud of how the city looks when those flags are out,” Miles said, “so when they announced they were going to redo the bridge, I got to thinking of how good the city would look with those flags on the bridge.”

Miles floated the idea by Enid’s AMBUCS chapters, then to other local civic and veterans organizations.

He said support for the idea was strong, and the plan moved forward.

The flags will be mounted on brackets above the sidewalks, which will run along both spans, and will cost taxpayers nothing.

AMBUCS will finance the project the way it does the downtown flag project.

AMBUCS sells one-year subscriptions for $65, which covers the bracket, placement and pickup of the flags on holidays and special occasions, and upkeep of the flags and brackets.

Anyone interested in purchasing a subscription to sponsor a flag on the Veterans Memorial Bridge can call John Parton at (580) 402-2550.

Excess funds will go to the AMBUCS AmTryke program, which provides mobility devices to disabled children and veterans.

AMBUCS always has been a strong supporter of veterans, as has been most of the Enid community, so the idea of flying American flags on the overpass is a great fit.

We commend Kip Miles and all those involved in turning this project into a reality.

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Tulsa World. April 16, 2019.

— Facing a stormy future, the University of Tulsa makes some tough choices

The University of Tulsa has taken a hard look at the future and made some difficult choices.

Some facts:

— Tough times lie ahead for colleges and universities. Domestic demographic realities mean that the number of college-going students nationwide will drop 20% over the next decade. Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School predicts half of the nation’s 4,000 or so colleges and universities will close or merge in the coming decade.

— Simultaneously, the United States has become a more difficult and less welcoming place for international students, who have been a financial cushion for higher education. TU’s international student numbers have gone from 20% of enrollment a few years ago to 12% this year and are likely to be less than 10% in the fall.

— Tuition isn’t supporting the school financially. Every year, TU spends about $10,000 more per student than it nets from tuition.

— TU has too many degree programs. The Higher Learning Commission, TU’s accrediting agency, noted in the school’s most recent review that it has more programs than can be justified for an enrollment of 4,400. The commission noted that programs seemed to be discontinued mainly because of faculty attrition rather than strategic decisions.

To deal with those challenges, TU President Gerard Clancy and Provost Janet Levit rolled out a reorganization plan last week that includes reducing degree programs, restructuring the school’s administrative framework and trimming administrative costs.

It’s a big change. Traditional academic departments will move into interdisciplinary divisions, and a new “professional super college” will emerge around the business, health and law colleges.

Eighty-four degree programs — including musical theater, theater and performance, and graduate programs in chemistry, geosciences and anthropology — will be phased out. Affected students, including those who enroll this fall, will still be able to complete their degrees. Other degrees — science, technology, engineering, math and cybersecurity — will be targeted for expansion.

Change causes friction. We’ve already heard from those who are upset to see the programs they cherished at the school going away. Given unlimited resources, the school might have allowed a certain amount of no-conflict inertia to lead the way.

But the school doesn’t have unlimited resources. An endowment of close to $1 billion and a new fundraising emphasis on student success initiatives and scholarships will help the school deal with the approaching storm, but they aren’t an impenetrable sea wall.

The TU plan is challenging, necessary and designed to make sure the school is part of the half that makes it to 2030.