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OU Board of Regents approves revisions to conflict of interest policy, personnel actions

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OU's Board of Regents meets in Gould Hall Oct. 23.

After a lengthy day and a half of public committee meetings, the OU Board of Regents met Wednesday for its regular meeting. The board approved revisions to OU’s conflicts of interest policy, passed a new health care provider misconduct policy and saw personnel actions and dean search committees.

The meeting came after the board selected Gary Pierson as chair effective March 2020 at a Tuesday lunch meeting, and after Vice Chair Renzi Stone resigned effective immediately in a Tuesday evening tweet.

Interim OU President Joseph Harroz gave opening remarks on a variety of topics.

After Harroz’s remarks, the board entered executive session for almost 30 minutes to potentially discuss numerous items that were listed on the agenda. The items potentially discussed include personnel actions, pending research or financial investigation(s) and/or claim(s), potential claim(s) involving real estate operations, pending personnel claims, pending negligence claims, review of university presidents and filed litigation against the university. 

Rainbolt said at the regents’ September meeting that the board would begin incorporating an executive session at each of its regular meetings.

Oklahoma Sen. John Michael Montgomery, Rep. Mark McBride and Rep. Toni Hasenbeck attended the regular meeting and the executive session. Section 310 of the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act allows legislators serving on relevant committees to attend executive sessions of public meetings.

Harroz told The Daily after the meeting had adjourned that the legislators were mostly observers in the executive session, since it was their first time there. He said the experience was useful because the legislators could gain a better idea of the challenges the university faces and also build relationships.

“I do think it’s useful on two levels,” Harroz said. “I think them being there gives them a chance to see the issues we’re seeing that we need to discuss in executive session because they involve litigation and financial risks to the university, but hopefully it lets them see how we approach it, what the issues are, how we speak about matters that we can’t usually speak about outside (of executive session).”

The board also considered revisions to the university’s conflicts of interest policy. OU General Counsel Anil Gollahalli introduced the revisions, saying they would reflect best practices at other universities and centralize decision-making within an office devoted to conflicts of interest and through two committees, one for the Norman campus and another for the OU Health Sciences Center.

Gollahalli said the policy allows the committees to be flexible in their interpretation of individual situations and to be consistent in decisions across departments.

The conflict of interest policy was passed with one addendum that Gollahalli explained in the meeting. Gollahalli recommended an addendum that will allow the appropriate office to approve usage of university intellectual property, which otherwise could be a potential restriction on summer opportunities for OU employees.

The regents then passed a new health care provider misconduct policy. According to Gollahalli’s description of this policy in the meeting, it creates additional oversight across OU campuses and many other universities have implemented similar policies.

The regents also considered academic and administrative personnel actions, including the board’s approval of the selection of Julie Hoff as dean of the College of Nursing. The regents also approved the appointment of Belinda Higgs Hyppolite as vice president for diversity and inclusion with an annual salary of $230,000.

Harroz had addressed the decision to select Hyppolite in his opening remarks before the regents addressed OU agenda items.

Later in the meeting, Joy Douglas, women and gender studies senior and the main organizer of a Monday rally in support of Irungu, spoke before the board and emphasized the importance of the impact and accomplishments Irungu has had as interim vice president for diversity and inclusion.

“Seeing the transition that’s been made in the last 15 months alone,” Douglas said, “with all the incidents that we’ve had on campus, it’s very disheartening to see that we’re again replacing somebody that was in place, that was doing a lot of that work, making a lot of the changes.”

Douglas said she hopes Irungu will stay on in some capacity because of the important work she has done.

“I understand that may be the best step for the university,” Douglas said, “but I come to the body in support of the interim vice president asking to make sure to keep her on campus in a capacity where she can continue to do the work that she’s doing. Because it’s impacted a lot of lives of students on campus. It’s made us feel like we have a home in Evans Hall.”

Rainbolt and Harroz thanked Douglas for speaking before the board, and Harroz emphasized the accomplishments of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion under Irungu. Harroz said he spoke with Irungu last week for more than an hour and that he hopes she stays in the administration in some capacity, and said Irungu told him she wants to make the transition as smooth as possible.

“We want her as a leader on campus, we want her to be someone who continues to be the fabric of this university,” Harroz said. “So if I have my way and if we have our way, she continues. Not in this leadership role, but in another leadership role.”

The board also approved dean search committees for University Libraries, the College of Professional and Continuing Studies, and the College of International Studies.

At the end of the meeting, the regents voted Gary Pierson to serve as vice chair for the rest of Renzi Stone’s unexpired term as vice chair.

In his statement Tuesday night, Stone said that with new opportunities on his plate and the university moving in the right direction, he “decided it was a good time to make a change” for him and his family. Stone’s resignation also followed the appointment of Regent Gary Pierson as chair of the board, effective March 2020. 

“I was very surprised and very sorry, although certainly wishing Renzi the best in everything and excited for the opportunities he faces,” Rainbolt said. “I think we have a strong board. I think Gary Pierson will lead us as an excellent chair (beginning March 2020). There’s a lot of opinions and a lot of minds going into it. I think it’s a great board.”

Stone said in his statement that in his time as a regent, he has spent between 10 to 30 hours a week on OU business. Since Stone’s appointment by former Gov. Mary Fallin in 2015, the board has had to select two presidents, conduct a million dollar investigation and has seen multiple lawsuits.

Stone’s resignation leaves a third vacancy to be filled by Gov. Kevin Stitt in the past year, with his two other appointments, Eric Stevenson and reportedly Pierson, currently residing out of state.

Forbes said Pierson missed Wednesday’s meetings due to a prior commitment that was scheduled before his appointment, but that the changes to the board should not cause additional scheduling problems.

“(Pierson) was a little bit hampered by, he already had things scheduled, and things were already scheduled here,” Rainbolt said. “But going forward, everybody will work out those days (in advance). I don’t have any concerns about that. It’s a great board, we’ve got great leadership. Good days are ahead.”

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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