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Journey to the presidency: OU President James Gallogly uses past experiences to guide current decisions

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OU President James Gallogly is presented the Presidential Collar by the OU Norman campus SGA President Yaseen Shurbaji and the Student Body President of the OU HSC Kenny Nguyen during the 14th presidential inauguration Aug. 16.

Once the fanfare was over and the confetti swept up, James Gallogly sat with his wife, Janet, after he was announced as OU’s 14th president. She asked him a question he didn’t expect.

Did her husband remember who was president when he attended the University of Oklahoma? Gallogly said he didn’t.

Janet told him to remember that.

His presence has been praised and denounced by members of the OU community, but the former petroleum executive has eased into his new role. Gallogly’s experiences in early life shaped his goals for himself and the university he now leads.

Though he originally planned to keep his wife’s advice in mind through his presidential transition and stay in the background, since July he has been featured in multiple videos sent out through OU mass mail, held meetings with key student-leaders, taken part in Q&A sessions with students and rushed the field with the RUF/NEKS at a home football game.

Since officially taking charge for the last few months, Gallogly has begun making the university his own, pushing initiatives that have changed the face of OU that was known for more than two decades.

First lessons

Gallogly's father, Tom Gallogly, spent years as a teacher, fostering a deep support of education in his son.

“My father was one of those unique people who clearly understood the value of an education,” Gallogly said in an interview July 10. “He had a homemade library, and it was always full of classic books.”

Gallogly was the second-born of 10 children, and his childhood was marked by a modest lifestyle on the move since his father served in the military before becoming a teacher. At one point, the family lived in a trailer behind his grandparents’ house while his father was stationed in Korea.

Gallogly said his father had a knack for determining the skills inherent to his children and could tell Gallogly was meant for business early on in life. His father urged him to read publications like the Wall Street Journal as early as third grade, which Gallogly said guided him as he moved through his career.

“I was charting stocks and reading magazines like Fortune and Forbes when I was in grade school,” Gallogly said. “My father was always talking about his portfolio and what we should invest in. He would develop his children in different ways. And with me, he said, ‘I think you're going to be a business person someday.’”

While working at the Safeway supermarket to pay his way through college at the University of Colorado, Gallogly decided he wanted to go to law school.

His father had apprehensions for his son spending more time as a student — he had a good job already, and his life was stable. But Gallogly was adamant he was to accomplish more than management at a supermarket, so his father gave him his blessing and a piece of advice: “If you’re going to go, be the very best.”

With that in mind, Gallogly headed off to law school at the University of Oklahoma in the mid-1970s.

After graduating, Gallogly sought work in the corporate sector. He still received advice from his father — tidbits like, “Never judge someone’s success by the size of their paycheck,” or always ask what else could be done after a success or a failure.

These pressures pushed Gallogly to grow, succeed and eventually become the CEO of multiple high-profile companies, including ConocoPhillips, LyondellBasell and Chevron Phillips.

“Well, I was very dedicated,” Gallogly said. “I was always striving to be the best, that was a powerful motivator.”

From businessman to OU president

The spirit of relentlessly pursuing goals was on Gallogly’s mind when a member of the OU community called in early 2018 and asked Gallogly to apply for the position of university president.

Gallogly said he had the option to vie for the position of OU’s presidency or take a position at another, unnamed company that Gallogly said he was a few steps away from joining.

“When OU called, I said, ‘I'm really not available, but I would love to talk to the committee and explain what I think the university should be doing,’” Gallogly said.

But after a conversation with his mentor, another former petroleum executive, Gallogly said his decision was clear.

“He asked me, ‘Which one do you stay up at night thinking about?’” Gallogly said. “And then when I thought about that, I had my answer.”

A few months later, he found himself among the seven finalists interviewed by OU’s Board of Regents.But the search process was not well-received by the general OU community, which had concerns about a search behind closed doors and had received few answers on who would be taking the helm at the institution.

By the time Gallogly was announced as OU’s new president in March, these concerns had come to a head, with some students protesting Gallogly’s appointment and some OU faculty members questioning the choice. Gallogly responded by saying he would challenge the OU community to rise to heights it never believed possible.

These challenges turned out to mostly concern money. At the regents’ June 19 meeting, Gallogly came prepared to inform the regents about the state of the university, which he called “unacceptable.” Gallogly said OU was nearly $1 billion in debt and that university costs were rising much faster than revenues.

This announcement spurred anxiety for OU community members and intense press coverage.

Gallogly admitted after taking office that the job is different than the one he expected he would be taking, but he said the challenges are something he’s prepared to face.

‘More than you thought possible’

In the months since, Gallogly’s administration has slowly taken form.

It began with Gallogly removing three vice presidents and numerous other executives, many of whom had been in their positions for years, in a major administrative restructuring.

Gallogly also started intensely examining the budgets of nearly every university department as part of his effort to reign in spending at the university. In addition, all public relations began running through Evans Hall.

The early days of Gallogly’s tenure were highlighted by rocky events. These included a former professor emeritus’ removal from campus after allegations of sexual harassment came to light and the forced resignation of the former vice president of university community for misusing a company car.

With the return of OU’s faculty, staff and student body in August to begin the fall semester, Gallogly has spoken to different groups at OU with a stump speech, listing his goals in the same order at each event.

He said he will focus on doubling research output, convincing graduate students to stay at OU and increasing pay for faculty members, among a few other items. But, seemingly most important to Gallogly, he plans to do this without raising tuition.

“We can't keep increasing tuition,” Gallogly said. “We haven't talked about that much. We were increasing tuition over 5 percent per year, year after year after year. That's a heavy burden on our students.”

Tuition has repeatedly increased for OU students over the last few years — most recently, a 5 percent increase in 2017. These decisions have always been approved by OU’s Board of Regents, the same board who brought Gallogly on as president.

Gallogly’s methods, such as clearing out longtime executives in the name of efficiency and conducting audits of various departments, have at times been met with anxieties among OU faculty and staff members.

But Gallogly said he will hold his employees to the same standard to which his father held him, always asking the same question: “What could be better?” He aims to do this while continuing to play a role in the background instead of at the forefront, keeping his wife’s advice in mind.

“It's not about the president,” Gallogly said. “What a silly way of doing things — because it's students and faculty that move through time as a group, and the president is just somebody who's helping them with administration, setting strategy and all. But if we have shared governance and we really believe in shared governance, then who’s president is not as important.”

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