“I didn’t come here to become part of the university administration but to become part of the university family.”
That’s what David Boren said April 28, 1994, when it was announced the former governor and then-U.S. senator would be returning home for something he said was deserving of a lifetime of commitment — the University of Oklahoma.
Now, 24 years later, Boren is less than a week away from passing on the keys to his office, but the family he built within the OU community is considerably larger and more engaged thanks to his efforts.
In discussions of university presidents from around the country, there never seems to be anyone quite like “DBo.” Generations of OU students share stories from around campus of sightings and interactions with the now 77-year-old president as if they had seen a celebrity. Students take selfies when they see him around campus and eagerly await hearing his voice on a potential snow day. In short, there’s no denying the love students have for OU’s retiring president. Furthermore, there's no denying that while he hasn't been a perfect president, he leaves the institution in considerably better shape than it was upon his taking office.
“We’re going to want to be a part of your lives, and we’re going to want you to be a part of ours,” Boren said on the day of his announcement in 1994. Boren has worked tirelessly to achieve this goal — to make every OU student feel as though they were part of a community.
Boren was often listening to the issues students care about — intervening in times when the university has made decisions upsetting students, such as in 2017 when he ordered the Lloyd Noble Center parking lot remain free for students to use. Or more recently when he announced funds be allocated to hire an additional psychologist at the University Counseling Center. Boren will often be remembered best nationally by his speedy response to the 2015 Sigma Alpha Epsilon scandal and his decision to remove the fraternity from OU’s campus.
Despite criticism of inaction from some activists on campus, most agree that Boren has opened his door to those who needed him to listen. Many OU students remember the then-75-year-old administrator taking a bullhorn and stepping onto a bench to tell two anti-Black Lives Matter demonstrators spewing racist remarks that they were not welcome at OU. It’s moments like this that make Boren unique, leaving many to wonder if our university will have a president quite like him ever again.
He hasn’t always gotten it right — questions over Boren’s financial legacy have risen in recent days and frequently over the years. Moments have occurred in which the OU community has questioned his actions. Issues such as hiring a significantly large group of highly paid vice presidents of which almost all are white men, problematic statements regarding sexual assault, and support for on-campus housing projects many see as ill-advised come to mind. Despite these issues, few have doubted Boren’s dedication to the institution he loves.
As Boren’s presidency ends, so does a career of nearly 50 years of public service to the state of Oklahoma: a lifetime of work dedicated to bettering the lives of others. Boren showed us what we could be, that going to college is more than getting an education — it’s being a part of a community bigger than yourself. Boren’s efforts to build this community won’t soon be forgotten.
Boren isn’t going anywhere. Students will likely still be shaking his hand on the South Oval long past June 30 as he plans to continue teaching at the university. We at The Daily hope Boren gets what he so richly deserves — a restful and healthy retirement.
Thank you, President Boren.