The first question OU’s presidential search committee asked James Gallogly was a simple one: Why do you want to be OU president?
Gallogly’s answer was just as simple: “Well, I don’t.”
Gallogly was in the process of accepting a position at a large private company when he was nominated by multiple unknown members of the OU community for the presidency before the February search interviews began.
However, when he was called by the committee for an interview, he wanted to give his two cents about how the university should be run. He said he soon found himself thinking of OU day and night, prompting him to seek the position.
Five months later, Gallogly sits in Evans Hall as the 14th OU president — and he’s managing a much different university than he expected to when he was selected on March 26.
“I got more and more information, and so my views today are different than my views of how the university operated from day one as an outsider. I have a very different view 90 days in,” Gallogly told The Daily on Tuesday, 10 days after succeeding David Boren. “So I've learned a lot in that period of time and, and it became clear to me that we needed to make some leadership changes.”
Upon arrival, Gallogly, who has a resume as a corporate executive and considers himself a financial expert, said he was concerned when he began looking into the financial status of the university and considered what he found unacceptable.
“When you get a budget book that's interesting and has millions of little lines and little numbers and you're saying, ‘OK, explain this to me again,’” Gallogly said. “I would consider myself a financial expert, and it has taken me months of intense review to figure out where we were. I think it's a bit unfair to say the regents should have a handle on that with the information that they've been presented.”
Gallogly said the university had an operating loss of $31.2 million from June 2016 and June 2017 and that the budget most recently approved by the regents — which Gallogly says he has already begun fixing — has a $15 million deficit that could get larger if some groups on campus come in over budget.
“When you start looking at that, subtracting that from our cash position — we can't keep doing that. It's very, very simple math, so it was obvious that something had to be done,” Gallogly said.
Despite Gallogly’s concerns regarding the university’s financial debt, some experts in the field have said this level of debt is not unusual for a university in a state like Oklahoma.
In addition to presenting the budget at the June 19 regents meeting, Gallogly told the regents his first step toward increasing efficiency — a massive executive restructuring plan that led to the removal of several longtime OU officials, including three vice presidents, and demoted several others.
Gallogly said he’d be searching for “the best and the brightest” to replace those who were removed from the university, something he said wasn’t always the case in Boren’s administration.
“One of the things David (Boren) did regularly was hire people sometimes with not much experience in that position,” Gallogly said. “And frankly, that showed in a number of instances, and that's why those people aren't with us today. Not in every instance.”
Gallogly said when he was first appointed as president-designate, he attended one of Boren’s staff meetings and was surprised by the number of individuals in the room. He was also surprised to learn Boren himself rarely attended, and he said he did not attend another of Boren’s staff meetings before the transition, saying he found it “useless.”
“Too many people, no real substance,” Gallogly said of the meetings. “And so I didn't bother going to another one of those. The group that I have now is a smaller group, and we will have regular staff meetings and regular agendas, and I'll be listening to people and continuing to learn.”
Gallogly has attributed some of OU’s financial woes to an increase in projects, such as the Residential Colleges, a project conceived by the previous administration that Gallogly says has lost money so far.
Though projects like Residential Colleges, as well as budgetary matters, must be approved by the Board of Regents, Gallogly said he doesn’t think the seven-member board which OU’s president reports to were given accurate information on what they were approving. Gallogly said he believed this was unintentional but still damaging and pointed to the Residential Colleges as an example.
“The financials that were presented indicated these were good deals. The information presented to the regents said so. I have the benefit of seeing some of the numbers, but I think the premises were flawed,” Gallogly said. “For instance, the occupancy of the Residential Colleges. There are assumptions made — would they be full or not full? How much rent can be charged? Some of the assumptions turned out to be inaccurate.”
Gallogly said he plans to work closely with the regents and that he sees their role as a system of “checks and balances” at OU.
“Hopefully, we develop a good solid trusting relationship. I'm a big believer in complete transparency,” Gallogly said. “If we find something that didn't turn out well, we should be very open and straightforward with them. I've worked with boards throughout my career. I've been a board member of major companies. I’ve seen it from both sides.”
Finally, Gallogly shared what he would like to see as financial success for the university — one in which debt goes down, compensation for faculty goes up and tuition remains as cost-effective as possible.
In addition, Gallogly hopes to improve the graduate student experience by doubling the research output of the university, which he hopes to accomplish by allowing faculty members to focus more on research than teaching, should they please.
“The primary mission we're trying to make sure of is education stays affordable, and we also are going to start taking care of the salaries of our faculty,” Gallogly said. “So those are the key things we’ve been working on. Again, I've been meeting with a lot of those faculty. I'm very, very impressed with the people I've been meeting.”
Gallogly said his next efforts in increasing efficiency would be talking to groups such as Housing and Food as well as OU Landscaping in the near future. Gallogly said he wanted to emphasize that a university’s success is not measured in terms of finances.
“I fully recognize the university's not a financial institution. We're about educating, and in my mind, if we're successful, first and foremost, I think our education process will get better and better and better,” Gallogly said. “Then as our faculty get better and better and better, research improves along the way and becomes world-class.”