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OU community expresses support, concern after Joseph Harroz named interim OU president

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Regent Leslie Rainbolt-Forbes issues a statement from the OU Board of Regents stating their placement of Joseph Harroz, dean of OU's College of Law, as OU's interim president May 18.

Following the selection of interim OU President Joseph Harroz early Friday morning, OU community members shared their thoughts.

Regent Leslie Rainbolt-Forbes gave a statement to the media after nearly six hours in executive session.

“On behalf of the Board of Regents, I am pleased to announce tonight that Dean Joseph Harroz Jr. has been appointed as interim president of the University of Oklahoma,” Rainbolt-Forbes said. “His nationally recognized leadership of the OU College of Law and his many years of service as Vice President of Executive Affairs and General Counsel give him an unequalled understanding of OU.”

Rainbolt-Forbes said Harroz has distinguished himself as an “effective leader and administrator” during his time at the OU College of Law. During his tenure there, the college has been named a best value law school and a top-20 moot court program nationally in recent years, and the college also has achieved the highest U.S. News & World Report ranking ever by an Oklahoma law school, according to the OU College of Law website.

Professor Emeritus George Henderson, who nominated Harroz for the presidency in the previous search, shared with The Daily his December 2017 nomination letter, in which he said Harroz possessed all the characteristics of a good candidate.

“He is a proven administrator, a visionary leader, an advocate for academic freedom, and a firm believer in excellence in teaching, research and public service,” Henderson said in the letter. “He also understands and supports the University’s commitment to being an equal opportunity institution.”

Henderson said in the letter that Harroz has displayed dedication to diversity during his time as dean of the OU College of Law.

“Dean Harroz has been a forceful advocate for and leader of racial and cultural diversity initiatives within the College of Law,” Henderson said in the letter.

Jess Eddy, a former OU student and employee who has accused former OU President David Boren of sexual harassment, said the appointment was inappropriate during an ongoing investigation of Boren. Harroz served on Boren’s legal team during Boren’s time as a U.S. senator and as OU general counsel for 12 years under Boren.

“I’m in disbelief. I cannot believe the regents think it’s okay to appoint (Harroz) as interim president at a time like this, when they’re investigating David Boren for sexual misconduct,” Eddy said. “To put a man who legally represented Boren for decades in that position, which will oversee the Title IX appeals process, is just beyond me.”

Rainbolt-Forbes said Harroz would not be involved in the ongoing Boren investigation during a statement to media at the regents' meeting.

People as close to Boren as Harroz once was likely knew of Boren’s alleged sexual misconduct, Eddy said, and Harroz’s appointment presents a conflict of interest. 

“Speaking on behalf of myself and the other victims, we all know how close (Harroz) is to David Boren and we know, for those of us who’ve been around David Boren for any amount of time, that everybody knew of his misconduct, and that includes (Harroz),” Eddy said. “He was his attorney and as his attorney kept him safe and kept him from being held accountable.”

In Henderson’s nomination letter, he expressed confidence Harroz would serve the university first despite connections to Boren. “Dean Harroz is a close friend of President Boren,” Henderson said in the letter, “but, more important, he is an independent thinker whose loyalty is first and foremost to the University. He is his own man.”

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