Aerial

OSU-Tulsa has 600 Tulsa-only students. Another 1,900 attend classes at OSU’s Tulsa and Stillwater campuses. TOM GILBERT/Tulsa World

Congratulations to Pamela Fry, who was named the next president of Oklahoma State University-Tulsa on Friday.

On July 1, President Howard Barnett will take emeritus status and continue working on legislative issues and fundraising for the school.

Fry has an impressive vita that seems well suited to the job. She has been the OSU-Tulsa provost and vice president for the past three years and previously held several senior positions at OSU’s Stillwater campus. She has taught, published and presented broadly in the tradition of true academics. She has spent her entire professional career in Oklahoma, earned degrees at OSU and the University of Oklahoma and, at one time, was a graduate student at the University Center at Tulsa, OSU-Tulsa’s ancestor institution.

In her new role, Fry faces a true challenge: making OSU-Tulsa relevant to the city’s future.

OSU says its Tulsa campus enrollment for the most recent semester was 2,210. Some 1,403 of those are also taking classes in Tulsa and Stillwater. Those aren’t the kind of numbers to meet the higher education needs of Tulsa’s economy.

The structure of public higher education in Tulsa is frustrating. By law, Tulsa Community College essentially has freshman and sophomore courses monopolized in Tulsa County. By policy and court agreement, Langston University’s Tulsa campus has a similar monopoly on several high-demand bachelor’s degrees. The result: Tulsa County has a very successful community college; two tiny senior colleges side by side downtown; a specialty graduate and medical school in midtown; another medical school on the west side; a four-year competitor snugging up against the Wagoner County line, and another just over the hill in Claremore. It’s unwieldy, overly expensive and not producing the educated students that the city needs.

In an interview with the Tulsa World editorial board, Fry said she wants the school to increase the type and number of degrees and certificates it offers and outlined some interesting plans for incremental growth, but not the sort of breakout movement that the city’s political and business leadership say is essential to Tulsa’s future. Given the legal and policy constraints, it’s hard to imagine a different course, and that’s frustrating.

We genuinely wish Fry good luck. She’s smart, well liked by her peers and unquestionably qualified. If the assignment she has accepted is daunting, it is also essential to Tulsa’s future.

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