As interim OU President Joseph Harroz begins his minimum 15-month tenure in office, members of the OU law community said they are confident in Harroz’s ability to deal with the university’s challenges and serve OU’s diverse student body.
Harroz, whom the OU Board of Regents selected to begin as interim president immediately following their six-hour deliberation that lasted from late Thursday evening to early Friday morning, has served as dean of the OU College of Law since July 2010.
Cameron Burleson, former SGA vice president and OU law student, said as an undergraduate he reached out to Harroz when Burleson couldn’t decide whether law school was for him. Despite Harroz’s busy schedule as dean, Burleson said, Harroz took 45 minutes and sat down with him to talk.
“From that moment,” Burleson said, “I knew that (Harroz) was someone who genuinely cared about not just his students that he was tasked with serving, but just the OU community as a whole ... I really have the utmost respect for him.”
Nick Marr, an OU law student, said from the time Harroz reached out to him about attending OU Law to now, it was clear to him that Harroz cared about students.
“He’s just such a likable guy,” Marr said. “All of the students, I think, at the law school would agree with that. He’s very personable, he’s very approachable. He’s often hanging around with the students, talking to the students ... I think that students will feel like he is there to serve them and represent them.”
Burleson said he is confident in Harroz’s ability to be independent and to keep the students’ interests first, despite his previous employment under former OU President David Boren.
Community activists have raised concerns about Harroz’s relationship with Boren, who is under investigation for allegations of sexual misconduct, as Harroz enters the presidency. Harroz served as a member of Boren’s legal team when Boren was a U.S. senator and as OU’s general counsel for 12 years under Boren.
Burleson said the way Harroz addressed the September 2018 controversy surrounding the published views of Brian McCall, former OU College of Law associate dean, showed Harroz’s commitment to students.
Following the conclusion of an independent investigation, Harroz issued a statement detailing his views and the steps OU Law had taken and would take to ensure inclusivity and student safety.
“Throughout that process, Dean Harroz always had student interests first. And the people who brought those worries and frustrations to him, he had their interests at heart always,” Burleson said. “So the way that he handled that situation is the way that I think the OU community wants a president to handle the situation. He took swift action after due process was served.”
Burleson said Harroz also held a forum to give members of the community an opportunity to share their views about the situation.
“Every single law student was given the opportunity to attend, and not only did (Harroz) speak, but students were given the opportunity to speak,” Burleson said. “And many students stood up and offered harsh criticism to the way OU Law had maybe handled situations such as this in the past. And Dean Harroz listened to it and made the necessary changes in order to better accommodate the students at OU Law.”
Dean Emeritus Andrew Coats, who was dean of the College of Law until Harroz began in 2010, said Harroz is well-prepared for the presidency.
Coats said Harroz has done a good job of keeping the law school in a solid financial position despite repeated higher education cuts in the Oklahoma state budget.
“I think (Harroz) is an excellent selection to be interim president,” Coats said. “He has a good understanding of the fiscal responsibilities and fiscal problems facing the university. I also think he’s a person who can come in and go forward with the idea that we have no discrimination of any kind on our campus.”
Marr said Harroz’s experience as dean of the College of Law should prepare Harroz well for the interim presidency.
“I think the good thing is, being dean of the law school I think is different than being dean of Arts and Sciences or one of the more on-campus colleges,” Marr said. “It’s almost like being president of a mini university within the university, so I think that he’s well-prepared to handle the ethical issues that will come up, that he’s going to inherit by no fault of his own.”
Marr and Burleson both said, based on their experience, Harroz is a person of integrity.
“I think he’ll do what’s right — whether that ultimately is a good thing or a bad thing for the Boren legacy,” Marr said.
“Those who may be victims in any investigation deserve due process,” Burleson said, “and I just truly believe that will happen and they will get the justice that they deserve if justice is so required. I know that a lot of people are worried about that.”
Burleson said Harroz has created an open culture at the law school that can be brought to the university as a whole.
“I would implore (people) ... to look into the way that Dean Harroz has handled situations such as this in the past and how effectively he has been able to develop an open, honest and transparent culture at the law school,” Burleson said. “When you look at that culture at the law school, you will see that that is a culture that can be translated to the University of Oklahoma that will be conducive for all students to feel like they can belong here — to feel like they can succeed here, and for faculty and staff to feel that way as well.”
Coats said Harroz could succeed in the position long-term.
“In my judgment,” Coats said, “(Harroz) would make not only a fine interim president, but a good president."