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Our View: Publicly funded investigation into sexual misconduct allegations must be transparent

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Boren and Tripp Hall

Former OU President David Boren and former vice president for University Development Trip Hall.

OU has spent nearly $300,000 on one of the wealthiest law firms in the world during its investigations of inappropriate misconduct by former OU administrators. Even though this is being done with public money, the university has offered little transparency on what it is funding.

The Jones Day law firm has been investigating “allegations of possible inappropriate conduct” since November 2018, according to an April 5 statement by the Board of Regents. The Oklahoman reported on Feb. 13 that the firm was investigating former OU President David Boren for sexual harassment against male aides. The university declined to comment on the specifics of the “ongoing investigation” until two weeks ago, on March 26, when NonDoc released a story detailing allegations from two OU graduates against Boren and former vice president for University Development Tripp Hall.

Without the reporting of news outlets like The Oklahoman, NonDoc and The Daily, the public would know next to nothing on what their money is funding — and why.

Even still, we don’t have the entire picture of what this money is going toward.

The university has never disclosed the specific point of the investigation to the public, saying that since the investigation is ongoing, “comment on specifics at this time would be inappropriate.” Even when the investigation concludes, Jones Day is a private law firm, so they may never have to release details of their investigation to the taxpayers paying their legal fees.

The public deserves more understanding and transparency about how its money is being spent, and what the results of that spending will be — especially since we now know that the spending involves investigating someone whose name is all across campus.

OU did finally acknowledge on March 26 that the investigation was due to “alleged sexual misconduct” after NonDoc released its story, but it did not disclose any other details on how the investigation will proceed, nor confirm the people allegedly involved.

In the meantime, the Board of Regents held a special meeting that was entirely spent in executive session discussing "personnel investigations,” according to the agenda. The board will hold another of these private meetings April 9.

This investigation comes at a time where the university’s budget is being heavily scrutinized by the Gallogly administration. Rounds of layoffs have been conducted, and the administration has released statements on why certain departments were cut. But a nearly $300,000 ongoing investigation has not been afforded the same level of transparency because the discussion “involves confidential issues of personnel matters,” according to a statement from the Board of Regents.

The university has also emphasized time after time that this investigation is an unaffiliated one, conducted outside of the university rather than with the Title IX office to be sure it is conducted independently.

However, this “independent” investigation is set to brief the Board of Regents and OU President James Gallogly on its progress for the first time on Tuesday in an executive session. At the February Board of Regents special meeting, chair Leslie Rainbolt-Forbes made a statement following hours of discussion in executive session that Gallogly was not involved whatsoever in the investigation. This briefing will now cement the relationship between the university and Jones Day as one of client and employee, rather than contractor and independent entity.

The contractual relationship between the “unaffiliated” law firm and the university is why one of the accusers, OU graduate Jess Eddy, and his civil advocate Sara Bana said they have “no faith, whatsoever, in Jones Day conducting this investigation.”

If the university wants to conduct this investigation “independently” with a law firm they have paid nearly $300,000, transparency on how the investigation is being conducted is vital to ensure it is as unaffiliated as they say it is.  

 

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