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OU, other universities take different approaches to presidential inauguration while navigating pandemic

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Harroz Inauguration

President Joseph Harroz inauguration picture pulled from the inauguration's website.

While the inauguration of OU President Joseph Harroz will take place in person from Sept. 16 to 17, including a celebration dinner and party open to the OU community, some universities have opted to take different approaches to presidential celebrations amid the pandemic. 

Although Harroz’s presidency began May 9, 2020, the university postponed celebratory events due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Celebrations will begin with a reservation-only celebration dinner on Sept. 16 at the Lloyd Noble Center. The inauguration ceremony will be at 10 a.m. on Sept. 17 at the Lloyd Noble Center. A university celebration will follow the inauguration at 11:30 a.m. on the South Oval along with tours of the Boyd House — the President’s house — from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. 

While the Lloyd Noble Center can hold up to 12,000 people, less than 700 attendees are expected to attend the dinner, and the inauguration ceremony will have less than 1,200 attendees, a university spokesperson wrote in an email. A livestream option is also available for the dinner and the ceremony.  

The university is aware of the status of the pandemic across Oklahoma and has taken “great care” to host each event in the “safest possible environment,” according to a university spokesperson. Event guests are expected to wear masks at indoor events when not eating or drinking. 

Though OU “strongly encourages” masking, university administrators cite Senate Bill 658 and Gov. Kevin Stitt’s May 28 executive order as barring the institution from requiring masks on campus. SB 658 prevents certain entities from mandating vaccinations, requiring vaccine passports or implementing a mask mandate for students who are not vaccinated against COVID-19.

Those entities include a board of education of a public school district, a technology center school district, the board of regents of an institution within the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education, the governing board of a private postsecondary educational institution, the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education and the State Board of Education or Career and Technology.

Executive Order 2021-16 prevents state agencies from requiring masks or COVID-19 vaccines. 

Like OU, the University of Texas will host an in-person presidential inauguration for its 30th president, Jay Hartzell, on Sept. 24. Events will include an investiture ceremony, a “state of the university” address and a campus celebration open to the UT campus community, which includes more than 55,000 people

Presidential inaugurations at some universities have been held virtually due to COVID-19 concerns. The University of Mount Olive inaugurated its sixth president, H. Edward Croom, virtually on March 25. 

Similarly, Centenary University in Hackettstown, New Jersey held a virtual inauguration for its 14th president, Bruce Murphy, Jan. 26. To construct its pre-recorded inauguration video, requests for video submissions were sent to other New Jersey private and public university presidents, presidents of community colleges the university collaborates with, and university leadership, Centenary spokesperson Karen DiMaria wrote in an email. 

The videos were combined into one video by the marking team. 

During the “most important” part of the inauguration, the investiture of the medallion, DiMaria wrote she distanced herself while placing the medallion on Murphy by extending her arms. 

“Because of the social distancing required at the time, this was the safest way and showed the audience that the University took these regulations very seriously,” DiMaria wrote. 

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