Monday, July 2, 2007

Budget ‘belt tightening,’ tuition jump follows dismal state returns - 2 July 2007


The numbers are in, and tuition is up.

Following a less-than-expected allocation from the state government, tuition across the state has risen to offset mandatory cost increases and low enrollment.

At NSU, in-state undergraduates will pay $126.60 per credit hour this fall, an 8.9 percent increase over last year. In-state graduate students will pay $154.90 per credit hour.

The university’s increase is higher than the other state universities, which had an average of 8.6 percent, according to a report by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education.

OU and OSU raised tuition by 9.7 and 9.9 percent, respectively.

The rise at NSU is because of cost increases in mandatory spending, like insurance and utilities. The Regents gave the university $1.1 million and costlier bills totaled $1.4 million, said acting President Kim Cherry, forcing the tuition increase.
She also said the “very high-cost programs” of music, speech pathology and nursing saw tuition increases to more than $146 per credit hour.

The regents, after asking the state legislature for $170 million more than last year’s appropriation, received only $79.6 million in new money. About one-third was divided between the state colleges and universities, and the rest are earmarked for financial aid programs and special projects initiated by the legislature.

The total higher education allocation was about $1.1 billion.

All of this has caused a financial situation in Tahlequah, where cautious administrators have trimmed budgets. New hires under the prevue of Cherry’s Office of Administration are being considered carefully, and every department must justify filling those blank posts.

The ax has fallen on academics, too. The Office of Academic Affairs budgeted last year for six new faculty and the phantom positions have now been repealed because of lower enrollment.

“It was a pretty painless way to give up new positions,” said Vice President Dr. Dalton Bigbee. “If you never had it, it doesn’t hurt so badly.”

He said no job advertisements had been circulated and no one had expected to get one of these six positions, but one of the unassigned budget lines was being held for a vacancy in the English department.

Bigbee said adjunct faculty will now assume those teaching duties.

He said the cut freed up $300,000.By phone last week, Cherry strayed away from the assumption that the budget is rife with cutbacks.

“It is belt tightening,” said Cherry.

The school is not completely strapped, she said. There are still funds set aside for departments’ special needs.

There is also a silver lining for entry-level employees and staff grades one through five, who will get a pay raise this year. Student workers are included, and in July will start with an hourly wage of $6.15. The current wage is $5.60.

At that point, the federal minimum wage will be $5.85.

“We find it more and more difficult to keep competitive,” said Cherry, who noted the university is “trying to stay ahead of the minimum wage.”

She also said a proposed salary stipend is in the works and will be reviewed in November. It is tied to enrollment numbers and if the outlook is good, the stipend will be distributed in January.

Among the operating budgets being parsed by low revenue and high costs are those for equipment, the Physical Plant, Computing and Telecommunications and Business Affairs. The belt tightening has also affected the university-wide implementation of nFocus, a data interface software designed to facilitate easier information sharing between departments. Upgrades of the Oracle software are being delayed, said Cherry.

This is not the first time the university has felt the money crunch.

Major restructuring of the university’s academic programs followed a dip in state appropriations in 2002.

That year, the state cut funds to higher education by more than $36 million, which after an 18-month review led to the consolidation of several departments into four distinct colleges.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Shaffer reverses plea, seeks lesser sentence - 18 June 2007


A former campus minister charged with soliciting sex from a minor has struck a deal with federal prosecutors, seeking a lighter sentence in exchange for a guilty plea.

In the eight-page agreement, Charles B. Shaffer pleaded guilty to sending an obscene photo across the Internet, specifically, a picture of his genitalia. According to court documents, Shaffer thought the recipient was a 13-year-old girl.

The plea, filed June 11, is a reversal from an initial "not guilty" plea. The original charge against Shaffer carried a maximum of 30 years in prison; the new charge has a maximum of five years behind bars, up to $250,000 and three years of supervised release.

Shaffer's attorney submitted instructions and questions to be used in determining a jury, typical in a criminal trial, just one week before the new deal. Shaffer also waived his right to a jury trial.

However, there is no guarantee that the court will accept the agreement.

Shaffer was an outreach minister for the South College Church of Christ and led the Redmen for Christ ministry, a component of the church. He resigned from his post after being arrested.

He was also a network manager with university technical services and is still employed on a technicality. Shaffer was placed on administrative leave, where he will remain until the court hands down a verdict. He is currently not receiving pay or benefits.

FBI agents arrested Shaffer Feb. 2 in a sting designed to capture individuals seeking to have sex with minors. An affidavit states an undercover agent with had chatted online with Shaffer at times during the January and February. Shaffer then traveled to Walters, Okla., to meet up with the undercover.

It is unclear what prompted the reversal. His lawyer, public defender William Earley, could not be reached.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

President Larry Williams now in intensive care - 10 April 2007

The president take a turn for the worse.


President Larry Williams had been moved to an intensive care unit for an illness unrelated to the heart attack he suffered last month.

He had been in physical therapy, but was taken to ICU with difficulty breathing, Neal Weaver, vice president of university relations, wrote in an e-mail to the faculty last week.

Williams, 62, is reported to be improving after recieving doctors’ care to stabilize an infection in his lungs, said Weaver.

The president was flown by helicopter to a Tulsa hospital March 3. Doctors diagnosed the heart attack as “moderate” and performed surgery to repair an artery. It was then that he was released to a rehabilitation center until March 30, when his condition turned.

The ongoing medical situation has cast doubts as to when Williams will return to work. His duties make little impact on the day-to-day operations of the university but as graduation and the budget cycle approaches, it seems his presence is essential.

The vice presidents of university relations, acadmic affairs and administration have taken their share of the work, making
the decisions with Williams in mind. However, said Weaver, what the administrators are doing now is not too far from their every-day jobs.

“I think we are very lucky to have a president that doesn’t micro-manage the instution and allows leaders across campus the freedom and flexibility to make decisions and solve issues related to their areas,” said Weaver.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Shaffer pleads not guilty; trial to begin next week - 3 April 2007

This is a recap of a story we broke a while earlier.


A former university employee who also served as a Redmen for Christ minister has pleaded not guilty to charges that he tried to solicit sex from a minor.

The next phase of Charles Shaffer’s trial will begin about April 9 in Federal court, where either jury selection will begin or lawyers will ask for a continuance. Public defender William P. Earley represents Shaffer.

Shaffer was arrested in February, exactly one month after police say he began an online conversation with what he believed was a 13-year-old girl, an FBI affidavit states. The Walters (Okla.) Police Department coordinated with members of in an Internet sting that began in December.

According to the affidavit, a member of Perverted Justice had portrayed a 13-year-old girl and was in contact with an individual with the screen name “c_meandu,” who said he was a state employee and worked in the field of communications. Shaffer is on administrative leave from the university, and was network manager with the university technical services network.

Shaffer is charged with using the Internet in attempting to persuade a minor to engage in sexual activity. If convicted, he could face 5-30 years in prison.

Shaffer resigned Feb. 6 from his part-time post as a campus minister and head of Redmen for Christ, which is overseen by the South College Church of Christ.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

President Williams suffers heart attack - 6 March 2007

We recieved a tip on this story about one hour before the paper went to print, throwing my awesome page design into whack. I think the design turned out alright, though, and students were happy to know the story on their president.


President Larry Williams suffered a “moderate” heart attack over the weekend, the university announced Monday.

He is in stable condition in a Tulsa hospital, said Dr. Neal Weaver, vice president for university relations, in an e-mail to faculty and staff.

Williams was taken to Tahlequah City Hospital Saturday, and then was transported by helicopter to Tulsa. Doctors there inserted two stents to restore normal blood flow to a blocked artery, said Weaver.

More will be known later this week about when Williams can return to work.

He has no history of heart disease, Weaver said.

“The president and Pam [Williams] asked me to convey their sincere appreciation for all the positive thoughts and prayers extended for his quick recovery. He certainly looks forward to being back on campus soon and is grateful to the entire NSU community for your support and concern,” said Weaver.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

FBI says campus minister planned sex with 8th grader - 20 Feb 2007

This wasn't my first crime reporting story, but I was shocked at the things this guy allegedly said in the affidavit - I spared the details from the story.


A university employee who also served as a Redmen for Christ sponsor is scheduled to appear in federal court Thursday on a complaint that he attempted to solicit sex from a minor.

Charles “Chuck” Shaffer, 45, was arrested in Walters, Okla., exactly one month after police said he began an online conversation with what he believed was a 13-year-old girl, an affidavit states. A special agent with the FBI filed the affidavit in federal court.

According to the affidavit, Shaffer told FBI agents at the scene that he intended to engage in sexual activity and that he had made reservations at a Best Western in Lawton, 19 miles from Walters. Management at the motel found condoms, a digital camera and baby oil in the room after Shaffer’s arrest.

Since December, the Walters Police Department has coordinated with in an Internet sting.

According to the affidavit, a member of Perverted Justice had portrayed a 13-year-old girl and was in contact with an individual with the screen name “c_meandu,” who said he was a state employee and worked in the field of communications. Shaffer is network manager with the university technical services network.

Shaffer told the FBI he had traveled to Walters to have sex with what he believed to be a 13-year-old girl. The affidavit also states Shaffer planned to record the event with the camera.

He was aware of the child’s age, the affidavit states. According to the document, Shaffer asked on Jan. 2, “what grade are you in?” and the undercover agent replied, “8.”

He is quoted as saying, “I’ve dream [sic] about making love to an 8th grader!!!,” and then explicitly describes a sexual act.

Shaffer is charged with using the Internet in attempting to persuade a minor to engage in sexual activity. If convicted, he could face 5-30 years in prison.

University policy orders that Shaffer be placed on administrative leave until the completion of adjudication. He will receive whatever vacation and sick leave pay he has left, said Kim Cherry, vice president for Administration, and may receive job benefits until his pay runs out.

If the charges are dropped or he is found not guilty, Shaffer may return to work pending a review, but he will be terminated if found guilty.

Shaffer resigned Feb. 6 from his part-time post as a campus minister and head of Redmen for Christ, which is overseen by the South College Church of Christ. Church elders have asked the congregation to provide spiritual support for Shaffer and his family, and in a prepared statement, the church confirmed Shaffer’s resignation and asked for prayers.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Shattered Dreams - 30 Jan. 2007

A simple break-in piece wouldn't be very interesting to our readers, so I wanted to explore what it was like owning a business while going to school. That angle came easily, and so did the awesome quotes from the husband and wife owners.


Joe Corn got the call in a hotel room. He and his wife Clara had rented the room because his home’s electricity did not work – a casualty of this month’s ice storm.

And if a week without power wasn’t enough, police were on the line.

A burglar had broken the 7 foot-by-6 foot storefront window of RPM Paintball with an apple-size rock.

By the time a patrol car had been dispatched, two paintball guns and the burglar were gone, leaving glass and debris on the redbrick sidewalk in front of his business.

“I was surprised, I wasn’t expecting it. I thought it was a prank call, actually,” said Joe, Tahlequah junior.

But when he arrived, reality set in.

“I was worried about what they took,” he said.

Luckily for the 1-year-old business, the burglar only took two cheap paintball guns, known by their trade name: markers.
His wife Clara, Tahlequah junior, was a little more upset about the Jan. 20 break-in.

“People should really think before they steal from someone,” she said. “When you steal from a small business, it hurts someone. When you first start out, your paying for it to be there.

“I just wish people would think more often.”

A few days after the incident, Joe purchased a security system and installed new locks on the doors.

A spokesman for Tahlequah Police said there are no strong leads in the case.

“We need a break on this one,” said Brad Robertson, public information officer. “We need someone to come forward.”

He said there have been no similar crimes in the area. Statistics show Tahlequah Police arrested and jailed 21 burglary suspects in 2006.

Few students run a full-time business while taking a full-time school load. The balance is stressful, said Joe, but his love of the sport helps.

“It is pretty stressful. You’re trying to organize and work with the schedule of the store,” he said. “On the other hand, I have my own life to take care of. School is what takes the most toll, so I put it in backseat a lot more.”

Playing paintball has exploded in Oklahoma, especially along the Arkansas state line, where the forest terrain supports “woodsball” weekends. Middle-class patrons fuel the sport’s commercial base, buying up markers, compressed air, paint, goggles and accessories at a fervent rate, sometimes building their own “hot-rod” setup.

And since a another business owner opened a paintball field near Tahlequah, those playing “speedball” run through paint and air about twenty times quicker with faster marker rigs.

But Joe seems to care less about the bottom line and more about enabling the love for a game, a love for the hobby he shares with his customers.

The burglary will not hurt his business too much, but if a suspect were caught, Joe said he would only ask for a monetary recoup of his losses.

“I just think they were being idiots. Everybody makes bad decisions,” he said.

And on the success of RPM Paintball, Joe takes a light-hearted approach.

“It was a chance on opening the business,” he said. “I’ve gone through my first year, which is always the roughest.

“Then I get broken into.”