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RSU Pryor

President Larry Rice
Dr. Larry Rice, President

Q & A with the President

Dr. Larry Rice, a former state legislator for Pryor and Mayes County, is now president of Rogers State University. These questions and answers are reprinted from The Paper of Pryor in the March 2, 2009 edition.

Q. You are one of our most famous sons, but for those who don’t know, tell us your background in the Pryor/Mayes County area?

I was born and raised in Mayes County on property my father purchased from his father. I attended elementary school in Mazie and graduated from Chouteau High School. I attended Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

I moved to Pryor in mid-1970s to work for the Pryor Police Department. I served one term on the Pryor City Council. I left Pryor Police Department in 1979 to teach criminal justice at Claremore Junior College. In 1985, I received an exciting assignment from my boss -- establishing a new branch campus of Rogers State College in Pryor. The new campus opened at the Whitaker Education and Training Center in Pryor. That’s one of my proudest achievements.

Q. What has been your career trajectory since that time?

I served as Director of the Applied Science Division at Rogers State College from 1979 to 1986, and was Associate Director of Academics for the Pryor Campus from 1986 to 1991. In my latter role, I was responsible for all operations of the new branch campus, including securing state and private funding, scheduling classes, and recruiting faculty and students. We provided training in computer science for active and reserve members of the military at the Whitaker Education and Training Center.

In 1986, I was elected to represent Pryor and District 8 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

In 1991, I became Director of Public Affairs at The University of Tulsa where I was principal administrative liaison with all local, state and federal officials, managed strategic communications, and participated in major fundraising initiatives. I also served as Interim Vice President for Institutional Advancement.

In 1992, I completed a Doctorate of Education from Oklahoma State University.

In 2004, I moved into the role as Executive Assistant to the President at TU, serving as chief advisor to the president and his senior executive staff, liaison with the university’s Board of Trustees and managed a variety of special academic projects.

Then in 2008, I finally landed my dream job – President of Rogers State University! This, of course, was an opportunity for my wife Peggy and I to return home to the Pryor and Claremore area.

Q. Give us the Top 10 little-known facts about The Man from Mazie? Such as, former Pryor police officer, first director of RSU’s Pryor campus, your House bills that became law, House fights you prevented from breaking out.

I served in the Oklahoma House of Representatives until term limits ended my tenure in 2004. I am very proud of my public service, but there are a few things that stand out among my legislative accomplishments. Partnering with Sen. Stratton Taylor, I was able to secure funding for the original building of the RSU campus in Pryor in 1992.

The Pryor Campus building would not have been possible without the long-term partnership and support of the Oklahoma Military Department and Whitaker Education and Training Center, who provided the land for the institution to build the new campus. Protecting the environment has always been a passion of mine. I was the co-author of legislation establishing the Department of Environmental Quality.

I was the primary House author of a bill establishing the Oklahoma Energy Resources Board. The legislation also allowed oil and gas producers, as well as royalty owners, to voluntarily assess a tax on their industry to help clean up abandoned oil and gas well sites. The program has become quite popular. Proceeds from the tax are spent on clean-up projects, as well as educating the public about Oklahoma fossil fuels industries through scholarships, curriculum, and public service announcements.

And, near and dear to my heart, was a bill to remove the sales tax from goods and services (such as bake sales) sold by students to raise money for school trips or projects. Previously – believe it or not – we taxed those proceeds! But the legislation provided an exemption for them.

Finally, I can’t take any credit for breaking up fights in the Legislature, although I do remember – and probably participated in – several heated discussions! Another little-known fact is that I used to own and operate a small transportation company in Pryor.

Q. What have been the highlights of your first year as president of Rogers State University?

I can’t believe an entire year has passed already – it’s been an exciting and productive time. My first week on the job, we broke ground on the expansion of the Pryor campus. That obviously had special meaning for me.

We recently completed construction of the beautiful new 50,000-square-foot Student Center, which is the new centerpiece of the Claremore campus. We also launched a major expansion and renovation of Baird Hall to help alleviate overcrowding on the Claremore campus.

We selected a new Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Richard Beck, and a new Vice President for Student Affairs, Dr. Tobie Titsworth. We also filled several other key faculty and staff positions.

We launched a new bachelor’s degree in public administration, and added options in forensic accounting and manufacturing management to our bachelor’s degree in business administration. We began new Study Abroad Programs in Italy and Wales. We also expanded our Nursing Bridge Program at the Bartlesville Campus.

We began planning our Centennial Celebration, which includes major speakers, a documentary film and a hard-cover coffee table book on the history of the institution. In January, we opened the beautiful new Student Center on the Claremore Campus, and, of course, the new wing of the Pryor Campus.

Q. What changes have occurred recently at the RSU Pryor campus?

Big changes have occurred recently on the Pryor Campus! We will hold a Dedication and Open House of the expanded campus at 2 p.m. Friday, March 6. Everyone is invited to attend. We will provide tours of the new facility, recognize our donors, and enjoy refreshments.

The $1.3 million, 7,400-square-foot expansion project has resulted in several new classrooms, computer labs, faculty offices and a large commons area for students. Funding for the project was provided by a $750,000 state higher education bond issue and a $300,000 grant from The Oliver Dewey Mayor Foundation, in combination with $250,000 from the RSU Foundation.

Thanks to the O.D. Mayor Foundation, we were able to establish the first endowed faculty chair position at the Pryor campus. Dr. Thomas Carment occupies the chair on a full-time basis at the Pryor campus.

Enrollment for the spring semester increased significantly at the Pryor campus and the expansion is largely responsible for that growth.

Eighteen new classes were added this spring in a variety of disciplines this spring including accounting, art, business, Cherokee language, music and theatre appreciation, Spanish and more. RSU also has extended part of its nursing program to the Pryor campus with a new course in dosage calculation.

Q. What bachelor’s degrees are offered at RSU, which has become a four-year university in recent years?

Presently, RSU offers 30 bachelor’s degree programs (including options, or majors) in a wide variety of areas such as biology, business administration, communications and liberal arts. We recently added a bachelor’s degree in nursing to help alleviate the shortage of nurses in the region. Our bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership is a good way for adults who didn't’t finish college to earn their degree. And we have several unique bachelor’s degree programs such as community counseling, game development, and sports management, which has experienced a phenomenal response in terms of enrollment.

Q. Are there any bachelor’s degrees that a Pryor/Mayes County student could earn without having to go to the main campus in Claremore?

Students from the Pryor and Mayes County area can earn three bachelor’s and four associate degrees entirely online at RSU.

Our slogan at the Pryor Campus is “Where to Start.” That means that students can complete most of our two-year associate degrees on the Pryor Campus. They also can complete the first two years of requirements for most of our bachelor’s degrees in Pryor. However, they cannot complete all requirements for a bachelor’s degree in Pryor. We may study the feasibility of bringing bachelor’s degrees to the Pryor Campus in the future, but that would require a significant investment or resources. Access is one of the hallmarks of a regional university such as RSU, and we hope residents of Mayes County can make the short 20-minute drive to Claremore if they wish to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Q. We’ve got your ear, so here’s a question we’ve heard from local students: Why do RSU students at the Pryor campus have to pay the same fees as students at the Claremore campus when many of the services for which fees are assessed are not available at the Pryor campus?

Students on all RSU campuses pay $46 per credit hour in fees, which is lower than many other colleges and universities. This includes fees for facilities, activities, assessment (testing), library, technology, and parking. All of those functions are available on the Pryor Campus, except the library portion of the fee. Unfortunately, it would not be cost-effective or practical to duplicate our main library on the Pryor Campus. But, most services of our library are available online, and Pryor students may have to drive to the Claremore campus occasionally to conduct research at the library.

It’s important to remember that the cost of delivering instructional services on a branch campus is higher than that on a main campus. For example, we must compensate faculty members for travel and we must contract for security.

We have almost doubled the size of our Pryor Campus in the last year, enabling us to offer more student activities and services in the new commons area. Part of a student’s technology fees go toward the new computer laboratories at the Pryor Campus.

Some people have told me they believe it’s unfair for Pryor students to pay the same fees as Claremore students, while requiring them to drive to Claremore if they want to use the exercise facilities free of charge at the Claremore Recreation Center. However, fees do not cover the cost of providing free access to the Claremore Recreation Center. The City of Claremore provides this access to RSU students and faculty as part of our agreement with them to host our men’s and women’s basketball games in the Expo Center.

Q. Now that we’re picking on you, here’s another question – and the last one – we’ve heard from local students: What’s up with the high price of textbooks and the minimal trade-in value?

This is an issue on every college campus in the nation, and one I dealt with for the last five years at TU.

At RSU, we work to keep the cost of education as affordable as possible. I understand that the cost of textbooks is high, and I’m concerned about that.

Students have many opportunities to apply for financial aid, scholarships and grants to offset the cost of textbooks.

Our library has copies of textbooks for the most popular courses (introductory courses) for students to borrow if they can’t afford to buy them.

Individual faculty members research textbook options and decide which books to use for their courses. Publishers set the price for the textbook and the campus bookstore must adhere to publisher guidelines for pricing. Production costs for textbooks include an extensive research, review, design and editing process, all of which must be included in the price of each book. The price of textbooks is beyond our control, although we encourage our faculty to be price-sensitive when they select textbooks for their classes.

The amount of money the bookstore is able to pay students for books at the end of each semester is based on national market rates and whether or not the textbook will be used at RSU during the next semester.

Q. How is RSU commemorating its Centennial?

First of all we opened the expanded portion of the Pryor Campus and will be holding the Dedication and Open House for the Pryor Campus on March 6. I hope your readers will be able to attend!

Then, we will have our big Birthday Celebration on March 25 in Claremore. That is the official date of our founding in 1909. We will have a Dedication Ceremony at 11 a.m. for our new Student Center, in which we will unveil the new name of the facility. Then we would like to invite everyone into the Student Center for a “Taste of the Hill,” with food provided by area restaurants, and of course, birthday cake. All events are free and open to the public.

At 2 p.m., we will have the Centennial Parade, which begins at the Expo Center and travels east on Will Rogers Boulevard to downtown Claremore. At 7 p.m., Jeff Greenfield of CBS News will provide a free public lecture.

We also are proud to release a new hard-cover coffee table book about the history of the institution titled “100 Years on the Hill.” The book was written by John Wooley and features hundreds of historical photographs of RSU and its predecessor institutions. The book will be available on March 25 in the RSU Bookstore and area booksellers.

In addition, RSU Public Television will premiere its documentary film “Rogers State University: The First 100 Years” at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 29, on the Claremore campus. RSU Public Television will air the documentary several times over the course of the remainder of this year.

Q. Did you do your doctoral thesis on the history of the college in Claremore, and could you give us some of those highlights?

My dissertation was titled “Eighty Years of University Preparatory Education on College Hill.” My goal was to document the history of this great institution, not just in facts and figures, but in human stories. As a result, I met and interviewed a lot of wonderful people who attended or taught classes at our predecessor institutions, including Eastern University Preparatory Academy, the Oklahoma Military Academy and Claremore Junior College/Rogers State College. Of course, many of those folks are no longer with us, but we’re still grateful to them for building the heritage of this school. RSU has a unique and colorful history and we have certainly seen our share of change.

While writing the dissertation, the OMA cadets were on my mind. More than 10,000 of them attended OMA through the years, 2,500 served in the armed forces during various conflicts and 108 graduates gave their lives in service to their country. They will not be forgotten.

The Oklahoma Military Academy existed on College Hill for 52 years and the OMA alumni are our legacy. They provide financial support for the university to this day.

Q. What’s the coolest thing or things about RSU history?

There are many “cool” things RSU, but one that stands out to me is a recent chapter in our history. In 2004, RSU was the only regional university in Oklahoma to be granted continued accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools without further required evaluation for 10 years – a rarity in higher education and a major accomplishment achieved by few universities. That is indicative of our high academic quality, and the equivalent of receiving a triple-A bond rating.

In addition, we had four politicians who literally saved RSU during the last 100 years, with the assistance of community members.

Rep. C.S. Wortman secured the location for the school in Claremore in 1909.

Rep. H. Tom Kight was responsible for legislation establishing the Oklahoma Military Academy two years after the Eastern University Preparatory School closed in 1917.

Sen. Clem McSpadden had the political horsepower, along with community leaders, to establish Claremore Junior College in the fall of 1971, after OMA closed a few months earlier.

And finally, Sen. Stratton Taylor led the charge to untangle the institution from the higher education consortium in Tulsa, reclaim the Rogers identity and pass legislation allowing RSU to seek accreditation as a four-year university.

Another interesting story is William Price, an OMA graduate who still lives in Stillwater. In the 1950s, Price, an OMA cadet and soldier, was called upon by West Point to train its mascot, Hannibal the mule. A bronze statue of Hannibal remains on the West Point campus today.

I should also point out that 10 U.S. generals received their training at the OMA, including Lt. Gen. William E. Potts, our highest-ranking graduate.

Q. What’s the neatest thing or things about what’s happening now at RSU in terms of courses, or extra-curricular offerings, etc?

We’ve seen a large increase in enrollment in our business programs, especially the sports management program. And of course our nursing program remains very popular. I think that interest demonstrates the need for those programs in the northeast Oklahoma educational marketplace. Other popular programs include liberal arts, social sciences, and our biology programs – one of which (environmental conservation) prepares students to work in the expanding “green” economy, and the other (medical/molecular) prepares them to enter medical school. In fact, RSU has become the institution of choice for undergraduates in eastern Oklahoma who wish to eventually become physicians. In the last 10 years, 10 RSU graduates have attended medical school and 10 graduates have gone on to pharmacy school.

RSU also continues to operate its Bit-by-Bit Therapeutic Horse Riding Program for disabled children at its new Equestrian Center near Oologah.

And this fall, we will begin offering men’s and women’s golf at the collegiate level.

Q. If there was one thing you wanted patrons to say about RSU when others ask about RSU what would it be?

My highest priority as President is advancing and ensuring academic quality. Athletics and extracurricular activities are important, but academics should always be our foremost concern. We have a responsibility to our students and the community to provide the highest quality education possible. So, I would like to hear patrons say that RSU offers a high-quality and affordable education.

Secondly, if I may, I would like to hear them say that they that we provide our students with a personal education. That means individual attention from our faculty and staff. Our university-wide slogan is “It’s Personal.” But the slogan is more than promotional, it’s a principle that guides us daily. Everything we do is personal. That is our niche, and what we do best.

RSU also enjoys a statewide reputation for its nursing program. Ninety-two percent of RSU nursing students passed the registered nurse (R.N.) licensing exam on the first attempt, compared to a national passing rate of 86 percent and an Oklahoma passing rate of 85 percent.

Q. What are your major goals for the next few years at RSU?

This month, we are embarking on a university-wide strategic planning process, with the involvement of students, faculty and staff. The end result of the process will be the development of a short-term and long-term roadmap. It will tell us where we need to go in the next five to 10 years, and beyond.

Specifically, my goals for the institution in the next few years include the following: continue to carefully study the educational and economic marketplace of the region to determine what degrees are needed by students and employers alike; study the feasibility of introducing master’s degrees, perhaps beginning with an MBA; complete the Baird Hall project to alleviate the overcrowding on the Claremore campus; find a way to increase the availability of housing for students in Claremore, through either private or public means; improve our the retention of students (a challenge all colleges share); enhance the private support of the institution; increase our scholarship endowment to ensure students will receive the help they need to attend college; and expand our study abroad and international education programs.

Q. You have a high school student who isn’t sure about whether or not he or she wants to go to college. What’s your advice?

In the vast majority of cases, I would encourage them to further their education, either at RSU, another college or university, or at a career and technology center.

I also would encourage them to enroll in a concurrent college class while they’re still in high school. Tuition at RSU is free to all high school students who qualify for the program.

If they are unsure whether or not they are “college material,” they should visit our campus and talk with our admission counselors, faculty and students. RSU offers testing services and some remediation if necessary. If finances are an issue, I always say “we can find a way.” I understand that tuition rates have increased in recent years, but a college education in Oklahoma is still affordable compared to other states. And we offer a wide variety of financial aid options. In addition, we do everything we can to employ students on campus. Today’s economy and that of the future will require a highly educated workforce. In most cases, a high school diploma will not be enough. I understand that college is not for everyone, but most students should consider it very seriously.