During OU’s State of the University virtual town hall, a pair of questions was submitted from a member of the OU community regarding Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt’s Sept. 1 visit to the OU Food Pantry.
Stitt wore a “Thin Blue Line” neck gaiter to the food pantry tour. The first question posed at the town hall was why the university’s mandatory masking policy — which prohibits the use of neck gaiters and other face coverings not considered fit to reduce the spread of COVID-19 — was not enforced during the governor’s visit.
OU President Joseph Harroz answered, indicating the OU Food Pantry was not officially considered an on-campus location.
“If you all know where the food pantry is, it's in that shopping strip right across from our housing … it's just west of the dorms,” Harroz said.
The policy also states that a “surgical-style mask” must be worn by guests in all “university facilities.”
Harroz said there was a miscommunication between the governor’s staff and OU employees regarding what the university’s masking standards required.
“When this question was first raised, I asked what communication we'd had with the governor’s staff, and my understanding is that the communication from our team to the governor's team was not clear about what our standards were on our campus,” Harroz said. “So that problem may have actually fallen on us in terms of communicating it.”
At 11:57 a.m. Sept. 1, OU Director of Media Relations Kesha Keith said in an email Stitt and his staff were provided OU-branded masks during the visit and did observe social distancing when possible.
At 3:11 p.m. the same day, however, OU Executive Director of Government Affairs John Woods said in an email Stitt was not handed a mask from anyone at OU nor asked to change masks, and that he complied with university masking protocols.
Earlier the same day, Stitt wore a different neck gaiter on Oklahoma State University’s campus, where gaiters are permitted. The second question posed during the State of the University asked administrators what they thought Stitt attempted to “communicate” by switching to a Thin Blue Line neck gaiter on his arrival at OU. Norman has seen ongoing controversy around defunding the police department, leading one local group to attempt to force a recall election of Norman Mayor Breea Clark and several city councilors.
Harroz provided a brief answer to the second question.
“I can’t speak for the governor,” Harroz said. “I don’t know what (Stitt’s Thin Blue Line neck gaiter) means.”