Fifteen OU community members spoke in front of Evans Hall Wednesday morning, calling on the university and the Board of Regents to act with transparency and embrace diversity.
After the university announced OU President James Gallogly’s intention to retire once a transition plan is in place — and as the regents are scheduled to meet Thursday night to consider selection of Gallogly’s successor — the speakers came together with the hopes to effect change from the regents and university administration in this time of transition.
With roughly 40 people gathered near Evans Hall, the mood was dissatisfied but hopeful. The speakers challenged the Board of Regents to change, addressing what multiple speakers said has been a long-standing pattern of secrecy and injustices.
“Board of Regents, I reject you,” said Jess Eddy, an OU alumnus who has accused former administrators of sexual harassment.
But at the same time, speakers said this time of transition presents an opportunity for change.
Garland Pruitt, OU alumnus and president of the Oklahoma City branch of the NAACP, said everyone standing on the steps of Evans Hall and speaking out was there because they care about the university.
“We care about the university. We ain’t here to tear it down. We’re here asking for inclusion. Asking for transparency. Asking for diversity. That’s what we’re here for.”
A call for transparency
Many speakers urged the Board of Regents to be transparent on the selection of Gallogly’s replacement and asked the university to be more transparent moving forward.
Levi Hilliard, current OU staff and one of two known former OU students accusing former administrators of sexual harassment, emphasized the importance of the regents in presidential selection and the university’s overall operations.
“The Board of Regents can’t use (Gallogly) as a scapegoat for the university’s problems,” Hilliard said. “They are in the highest position at the university, and therefore the greatest burden for all of this falls on their shoulders. They can’t hide behind their privilege, and they can’t hide behind closed doors with armed guards to keep any of us out and exclude us from the selection process, and to obscure the truth in the shadows of their wealth and prestige.”
Hilliard called on the Board of Regents to make the Jones Day report public, to “denounce the notion” of using a private search firm to find OU’s next president and to be transparent about candidates in consideration for the OU presidency.
Speakers focused on transparency not only related to the presidency and the investigation into allegations against former OU President David Boren and former university Vice President Tripp Hall, but also with regard to a more expansive atmosphere of secrecy at OU in the past.
Suzette Grillot, OU professor and former dean, discussed an open letter she and colleagues wrote to the Board of Regents Feb. 5, 2018, asking for transparency in the presidential search that resulted in the regents’ selection of Gallogly. Grillot has been an outspoken critic of both the regents and the Gallogly administration.
“This is not about Gallogly versus Boren — because we asked for openness because of President Boren. Despite how bright and shiny the OU existence appears on the surface, there was and continues to be a dark underbelly at this university that too many of us have endured for far too long.”
Grillot said that underneath the surface of the administration, “racism, sexism, discrimination, harassment, intimidation,” and other abuses had existed under Boren's administration.
Former OU employee Daniel Dukes called on the regents to be transparent as well. He said Gallogly’s pending retirement gives the regents a new opportunity.
“Regents: you’ve been given a rare do-over,” Dukes said. “Gallogly’s departure is your chance to get it right. You can thank him for that. When looking for the next president, might I make some humble suggestions — be transparent. Let us know who the candidates are. Be intentional. Look for someone who will best serve the students.”
A call for inclusion
Speakers discussed issues of diversity and inclusion as well, encouraging the university to reach out to students of color, LGBTQ students, international students and others who may have been marginalized.
Tatenda Dzvimbo, OU student and vice president of internal affairs for the International Advisory committee, said while she respects the efforts made by the administration to address issues related to inclusion and diversity, the university must increase its efforts to accept and encourage all parts of its diverse student body.
“This past year has been a challenge for a majority of students and people of color like me, who’ve felt side-tracked and neglected,” Dzvimbo said. “This is a system of underlying racism, gender discrimination and misogyny that we feel has always been at OU.”
Dzvimbo said this is the time to make a change to university attitudes and structures.
“I speak not to disgrace, but to speak truth so we may all reckon with our past mistakes and not repeat them, so we can build a better tomorrow at our institution,” Dzvimbo said. “We need to change, and this is the chance to do so.”
After discussing specific challenges that transgender students at OU and members of the LGBTQ community face — such as limited gender-neutral restrooms, experience and fear of assault and harassment and other challenges — OU student Sawyer Stephenson said the university must focus on effecting change to adequately serve members of the LGBTQ community.
“This problem with the treatment of LGBTQ issues on campus isn’t just one person. It’s systemic,” Stephenson said.
Sara Bana, public advocate for Eddy and Hilliard — the accusers of Boren and Hall — said the regents must foster public transparency and inclusion to adequately serve the OU community.
“The systemic and institutionalized forms of oppression, suppression, exploitation, corruption, racism, deceit and the evidenced pattern of lawlessness on behalf of those in power is no longer acceptable,” Bana said.
Correction: This story was updated at 1:44 p.m. May 19 to reflect the correct date Suzette Grillot and her colleagues drafted an open letter to the Board of Regents in February 2018.