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Leaked recordings between OU Regent Renzi Stone, former Dean Suzette Grillot reveal division among upper administration during 2018 presidential search

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Suzette, Renzi and Boren (copy)

Former College of International Studies Dean and current professor Suzette Grillot, Regent Renzi Stone and former OU President David Boren.

Recordings obtained by The Daily reveal divisions at the highest level of the university’s administration in the months leading up to one of the most tumultuous years in recent OU history.

Suzette Grillot, former OU College of International Studies dean, provided The Daily with recordings of conversations she had with former OU President David Boren and OU Board of Regents member Renzi Stone in February 2018 that showed the OU administration was at odds during the presidential search for James Gallogly. 

Grillot discussed the search with Stone and Boren in separate phone conversations she recorded with Boren on Feb. 19 and Stone on Feb. 21. She recorded both conversations with the voice memo app on her phone. The Daily received the entirety of both recorded conversations.

The conversations took place not long before the search committee completed all of its interviews with candidates on Feb. 23 and was preparing to send the list to the Board of Regents. In early March 2018, final interviews were held, and Gallogly was named president March 26. 

Oklahoma is a one-party consent state for recording law, meaning as long as an individual is a contributor of the conversation recorded, it is legal to record without permission from the other person, according to Oklahoma Statute Annotated Title 13 and 176.4. 

“I mean, I think it's really important to understand that what Renzi Stone tells us basically is that the regents failed to supervise David Boren,” Grillot told The Daily. “There was no succession plan. They say he stayed too long. They acknowledge cultural problems and sham searches. So they basically have failed in their jobs and have betrayed the public trust, and the public needs to know that.”

Grillot was among the first and most vocal critics of the confidential presidential search process that led to Gallogly’s selection. 

Grillot was terminated from her position as dean of the College of International Studies on Jan. 18, 2019, but she remains a tenured professor in the college. She called for Gallogly’s resignation at the Rally to Stop Racism on Jan. 22, which was held in response to a racist video where an OU student wore blackface and used a racial slur.

On March 28, Grillot filed an employment charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against OU, Gallogly and OU Provost Kyle Harper under Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 for “gender discrimination” and retaliation for criticizing the Gallogly administration. The lawsuit is still ongoing, Grillot said. 

In Stone’s statement regarding his leaked conversation with Grillot, he said by having conversations with OU faculty, staff and students he has become more informed. Stone said while he is pleased with what interim OU President Joseph Harroz has done so far, that the regents “all recognize more needs to be done.”

“This conversation was secretly recorded a year and a half ago by a vocal critic who is currently suing OU,” Stone said. “I encourage everyone to listen to the full recording.”

In previous interviews conducted for different stories, The Daily has recorded conversations with permission from both Stone and Boren. The Daily verified the voices in those recordings were the same as the ones in Grillot’s recordings. 

In the recording, Stone said Boren left because of the regents.

“And if I could tell you anything, you have six regents — we used to have seven — who are the reason that he's not staying,” Stone said. 

In Stone’s conversation with Grillot, he said Boren “stayed too long” and would have no input in the search.

“We are aligned and on the same page on helping move (Boren) to the next phase of his life and get a new person in and help him not taint the new person when the new person comes in,” Stone said. “And, I can assure you, it is not his decision nor ... does he have a voice that's going to be of any real consequence in how the final decision is made.”

However, in Grillot’s conversation with Boren three days before, he said he did not have much input in the presidential search process, but he would “probably have more input into it once it goes to the regents.” 

Boren said he remembered comments during the provost search Grillot and committee members had given him in a memo about their issues with Harper during the provost search. Boren said if he had not “tried to push (selecting Harper) so hard, it probably wouldn’t have happened.”

In Stone’s conversation with Grillot, he references how Boren pushed for Harper to be selected.

“There is a lack of trust, and it's sewn by (Boren) and how he's governed for the last 23 years. ...  I was appointed (to the provost) search committee,” Stone said. “You know what I was instructed? — ‘We're looking for somebody that looks a lot like Kyle Harper.’”

But Boren said he was concerned about Harper becoming president. Boren didn’t explain his reasoning for the shift in his opinion of Harper in the recording.

Harper was named senior vice president and provost on March 10, 2015. He initially served as the interim senior vice president and provost in 2014 before he was appointed

“(Harper) would not be my choice to see what would happen out of this — for him to end up there,” Boren said, referring to the presidential search. “Hopefully he won’t. There are some other choices that I think would be good.”

Stone said Boren complicated the succession process because he “absolutely refused” to plan for it.

“And so, as a result, the Board of Regents found out about (Boren) resigning at the same time the public did,” Stone said of the news that became public on Sept. 20, 2017. 

Stone said because there was no succession plan, the board used the process the regents used to select Boren as president in 1994.

“And that path limited our ability to source candidates,” Stone said. “It limited our ability to vet candidates early in the process. It limited our ability to screen out people that maybe we thought shouldn't be a part of the process for whatever political or other reason.”

However, OU hired a search firm to aid in the search for Boren’s successor, and the firm was paid upward of $200,000.

Judith Wilde, a professor at George Mason University who has conducted research on presidential searches, said the board should have worked out a succession plan regardless of Boren’s feelings. 

“The fact that Boren is not assisting with the succession plan — it shouldn’t really affect the board’s planning for the future with one caveat,” Wilde said. “If they have no idea of a date that he’s going to leave, that makes some of it a little more difficult. However, the board is considered to be the highest-level administrators in a university, so whether Boren or anyone else wants to agree with them, it’s still their job to move forward.” 

In Grillot’s conversation with Stone, she said while the process to hire Boren was considered a closed search, someone who was there during that time told her Boren’s candidacy for the presidency was “as secret as a sunrise.”

“It was not a secret,” Grillot said in the recording. “It was not confidential. He was clearly in the running. He was clearly scoping it out. He came to campus several times. He met with people, there were meetings, there were discussions — it was an open secret that he was going to become president of the University of Oklahoma.”

In the recording, Grillot told Stone that OU has changed dramatically over the past 25 years, and she did not understand why the board would use the same process when higher education is so different now. 

“I mean at the end of the day, if you take the whole conversation and context, they have complete authority over who they hire,” Grillot told The Daily. “And clearly, when they did hire Jim Gallogly, they had complete and total control over that. So I don't really know what (Stone) meant, nor do I really buy it.”

The search for Boren’s replacement was kept confidential. The committee would not release candidate names, interview questions or the schedule of the interviews, which meant OU students and faculty were unable to give any input on who should be chosen.

In the recording, Grillot discussed concerns she had heard about the presidential search and told Stone the biggest way the board could mess up the search is by keeping it “completely secret.” Stone responded that it’s secretive because it’s “reflective of Boren.”

“What I just heard from you is reflective of how we feel, too,” Stone said. “And so we know that it's a disaster in a lot of ways. We know that there are all sorts of morale issues. ... We are aware of a lot of these things.”

Gallogly retired from the presidency less than a year into his administration. His presidency had many challenges, starting with his hiring. Gallogly was planning to accept a position at a company but was nominated for the presidency by unknown members of the OU community before the interviews started in February 2018.

During his presidency, Gallogly laid off about 78 OU employees in various departments in two rounds of cuts, received criticism for his handling of racist incidents on campus, denied rumors that surfaced about a feud between him and Boren and was viewed in a negative light by many OU students and faculty. 

In May, the regents announced Harroz would serve for at least 15 months and that the new presidential search committee may not form until summer 2020. However, the search committee for Boren’s replacement was formed only a month after Boren announced his retirement in September 2017. 

Grillot said she decided to bring her recordings to The Daily because the conversations indicate that the university’s administration needs to make changes. 

“I mean, overall I think what both these conversations tell us — again, in their voices — they tell us that there has to be significant change,” Grillot said. “That this university at the very top is rotten and broken, and it can't be fixed without leadership change. And it can't be fixed without oversight changes. So there has to be leadership change, and there has to be structural reform.”

To listen to the Renzi Stone recording, click here.

To listen to the David Boren recording, click here.

The Daily attempted to reach a spokesperson for former OU President David Boren for comment but did not receive a response before publication. A university spokesperson said OU would not have additional comments since Stone spoke with The Daily directly. 

Nick Hazelrigg contributed to this report.

Enterprise editor

Bailey Lewis is a journalism senior and The Daily's enterprise editor. Previously, she served as a news editor, a senior news reporter and news reporter.

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