Students seek change to Honors College name
Students are protesting the addition of the name “McClendon” to OU’s honors college amid concerns about donor Aubrey McClendon’s political views.
Members of Oklahoma Students for a Democratic Society are circulating a petition that demands “McClendon” be removed from the name of the Honors College.
According to a 2008 OU Foundation press release, the name of the OU Honors College was changed to the Joe C. and Carole Kerr McClendon Honors College to honor Aubrey McClendon’s parents after the Oklahoma City businessman donated millions of dollars to the university.
Members of the organization say they wrote the petition after requests for more information about the donation were denied by honors college officials, who declined to comment for this story.
“If there is more transparency, then there is more accountability,” Sean Hughes, president of OSDS, said.
Hughes, letters and philosophy sophomore, said the group wants the name removed because members are afraid McClendon’s donation will be used to influence the curriculum of the Honors College. However, OU officials say donors don’t have that kind influence.
The petition states that McClendon “contributes generously to a slew of right-wing and anti-gay groups.” Hughes said he does not want to see McClendon’s donation used for the donors’ own political agenda.
McClendon is the CEO and co-founder of Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy. According to the OU Foundation, $5.5 million of McClendon’s $12.5 million donation to OU is committed to the honors college. Currently, the honors college has received $1 million for the OU Debate Program and $750,000 to endow the first Chesapeake Chair in Meteorology.
But a request by McClendon to endow three additional chairs as part of a new institute within the college has Hughes worried.
According to the OU Foundation, the chairs will be part of “a new Institute focused on the historic and political roots of the American Constitution and our form of government,” or what Hughes calls a “conservative think tank.”
Hughes said he is afraid McClendon will have influence over who is chosen for the new chair positions and the extent of their power.
“We do need donations, but we don’t need them from people who give money with stipulations,” Hughes said. “We would just like to give him his money back.”
According to an e-mail statement from Robyn Tower, associate vice president for the Office of Development, “Donors determine the type of chair that will be established based on university needs and the donor’s wishes.” Tower stated that donors may influence a new chair’s role, but not the choice of who will fill it.
“Donors do not and cannot have influence on who holds the positions. Chair holders are recruited through the standard faculty search process, which involves direction from the leadership of the college, school, or department and their faculty,” Tower stated.
But Hughes disagrees.
“He is trying to use his money and his clout to get some influence on our campus and we don’t want any part of it,” said Hughes, an Honors College student. “He can take his money and shove it as far as I’m concerned.”
So far, about 120 students have signed the petition, Hughes said.
The Daily left telephone and e-mail messages Wednesday with Honors College Dean Robert Con Davis-Undiano in an attempt to learn about officials’ reaction to the petition, but Davis declined to comment.
“I would [make a statement], except that I don’t have a statement to make. I’m busy running the college and don’t know anything about these issues,” Davis stated in an e-mail.