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Interim OU President Joseph Harroz appointed as permanent university president

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Joseph Harroz

Joseph Harroz during the OU Board of Regents meeting May 8.

The OU Board of Regents selected Joe Harroz as permanent president at its May 9 meeting after nearly six hours in executive session. 

The board moved for Harroz to take on the title of permanent president effective immediately at his current rate of pay. The motion passed unanimously.

Before the board voted, board chair Gary Pierson summarized the presidential selection process that ended with Gallogly’s selection, and said Harroz was one of the final three in consideration.

Pierson said on the night Harroz was selected as interim, the board was willing to choose Harroz as permanent president but that Harroz asked the board to be named interim president rather than permanent president. 

“(Harroz) knew he was up to the challenge, and he was unafraid to leave the sure thing that he had as dean of the law school to do right by the university,” Pierson said. “So today, when the regents met, we felt we were at the end of a very open, very transparent 12-month interview with interim President Harroz. Some people could argue that we were at the end of a 23-year interview, and they would be correct.”

Pierson said the board continued the need for stability at OU, Harroz’s in-depth knowledge of OU, his familiarity with the OU community worldwide, and many other qualifications and criteria.

“We also weighed the merits, and the need for a national search. And let’s just get it right on the table. We know there are going to be some people that say we didn’t do this right because we didn’t do a national search. Well, we considered that, and we considered it very carefully.”

Pierson said the regents looked at nationwide success of national searches and other factors related to national searches when deciding not to pursue such a search immediately prior to Harroz’s selection as permanent president.

“In so doing, we educated ourselves on the national success of national searches, especially in terms of, what’s the longevity of somebody coming from out-of-state to a new institution and their tenure before they leave for the next institution. We considered today the history of OU as it relates to national searches and how many presidents have come and gone in less than five years as a result of that.”

Pierson said candidates brought in by national searches can have a few hours or days with campus constituents. Pierson said the regents kept in mind that perhaps OU’s most storied president, George Lynn Cross, was appointed after 12 months as interim president.

“This is the most important decision we can make at OU,” Pierson said. “Any criticisms about that, the level of seriousness by which we take this, will be wrong. We could not have taken it more seriously.”

The regents’ May 8, 2020 meeting agenda included an item stating that potential action could be taken regarding the hiring and employment of a university president, as well as the evaluation of Harroz, who’d served as interim president for the past year. The item also stated that an executive session could be proposed regarding those topics. 

During the meeting, though, the group moved to delay that item until the next day, and instead moved to enter executive session on another agenda item listing pending litigation against the university. 

At around 8:45 a.m. on May 9, the regents reconvened from the previous day’s executive session. After hearing a few committee chair reports, the group moved to enter executive session again — this time, to discuss the potential selection of a permanent president, as well as pending litigation. 

The regents’ decision to choose Harroz as a permanent president without the use of a search committee means the process was less open to the public than the secret search that ended in former OU President James Gallogly’s selection in 2018. Then, a search committee was formed that provided the regents with a list of finalists from which the regents selected Gallogly after a months-long selection process.

When Gallogly announced his sudden retirement in May 2019, the board chose Harroz as interim president in a nearly six-hour executive session meeting four days later.

When choosing a president, the Regents’ Policy Manual recommends the regents form a search committee of appointees from university groups including faculty, staff and students, but specifies that the regents are not bound to this process or to follow the committee’s recommendation(s) in their final selection.

Judith Wilde, chief operating officer and professor at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University in Virginia, has researched university presidential searches across the country. She said the regents do have the ultimate power to hire and fire a president, but doing so without much constituent input could be harmful to the relationship between university administrators and stakeholders. 

“If (constituents) have a chance to provide input to the board, whether or not there’s a formal search … I  would think that would give (the president) a better standing with the community — particularly, now, with a caveat — not only do they have a chance to provide some input, but that input is listened to,” Wilde said.

During his interim presidency, Harroz faced challenges including the outbreak of COVID-19 and related closures, as well as a three-day Evans Hall sit-in led by OU’s Black Emergency Response Team that came after two OU professors in two weeks said racial slurs in their classes.

Some of Harroz’s major actions while in office included a 69-person reduction in force in June 2019, a budget cut for fiscal year 2020, selecting a new chief diversity officer and creating a strategic plan for the university to use moving forward.

Harroz has long-standing ties to the university — he grew up in Oklahoma City, is an OU graduate and has served in numerous administrative roles at the university.

Harroz began serving as OU’s vice president for executive affairs in 1994 and was named OU’s general counsel in 1996, serving as the chief legal counsel to the university and the OU Board of Regents for 12 years — the longest tenure in the position in OU history. He then served as law dean from 2010 until his selection as interim president in 2019.

Harroz earned his juris doctorate from Georgetown University Law Center, and served as legislative director and legal counsel to former OU President David Boren during Boren’s time as a U.S. senator.

Additional experience includes Harroz’s time as president of a publicly traded health care company from 2008 to 2010. He also was a founding member of the Oklahoma Appleseed Center for Law and is a current board member of the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence, according to its site.

Ari Fife contributed to this report.

Scott Kirker is a letters and Spanish senior and assistant news managing editor for The Daily. Previously he worked as summer editor-in-chief and as a news reporter covering research and administrative searches.

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