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Our View: Despite faults, OU President David Boren leaves large shoes to fill

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Boren Smiles

OU President David Boren smiles as the crowd claps for him at his retirement announcement Sept 20.

After more than 50 years of public service to Oklahomans at the University of Oklahoma and beyond, David Boren’s indelible impact on our university is clear in a myriad of ways.

Though Boren assumed his post as president before most OU freshmen were even born, many of us became familiar with him through his signature greeting on snow day phone calls or the National Merit scholar memes that spread across Twitter like wildfire. But beyond the photo-ops, building dedications and social media fame, the legacy of changes Boren has made at OU will impact students for generations to come.

There’s plenty of room for the administration to improve, and the next university president will be responsible for taking OU’s achievements above and beyond what has already been accomplished. The bar is high. Thank you, President Boren, for raising it.

In his time as OU president, David Boren set a number of ambitious benchmarks, and his success will live on at OU for decades to come. The physical home of the Joe C. and Carole Kerr McClendon Honors College bears his name, as does one of the nation’s most prestigious study abroad fellowships. Portraits of a smiling Boren greeting an assortment of world leaders line the shelves of Farzaneh Hall’s lounges, a reminder of Boren’s commitment to increase the number of students studying abroad by 50 percent between 2009 and 2013. Student travel has been a particular focus of Boren’s tenure at the university, manifested in the launch of three international study centers.

We would also be remiss if we didn’t thank Boren for his help to The Daily through the years. Boren has always been a supporter of journalism, and student journalism in particular, but he has ensured The Daily could operate financially even in a difficult national environment for newspapers. Without his financial support, The Daily would not be nearly as strong as it is today.

In 2011, Boren remarked upon his desire to stay at the university until at least 2019 — a feat which would put him ahead of George L. Cross as OU’s longest-serving president. He won't quite reach that mark, but he led strongly in his final years. Most upperclassmen currently attending OU readily remember Boren’s decisive reaction to the 2015 SAE scandal, which gained national media attention. Boren again took up the bullhorn — literally — against racism on campus in 2016, demanding anti-Black Lives Matter protesters remove themselves from the South Oval.

While Boren has spearheaded a number of material improvements to the university, he has also faced rightful criticism for his handling of last year’s sexual assault report and rising frustrations among students over repeated increases in tuition and fees. While activists on campus have logged successes like the recognition of Indigenous Peoples' Day, OU’s administration has been quick to co-opt the success of such efforts.

At times, it’s been hard not to feel like some of the decisions coming from Evans Hall were simply paying lip service to students’ frustrations. In 2015, Boren authorized the hiring of a new psychiatrist in light of concerns raised by OUr Mental Health, an on-campus student organization that aims to bring attention to mental health issues. That brought OU’s total number of psychiatrists up to two, and so far, they’re still the only ones available to serve the university’s 26,000 students. Boren quickly ordered the Office of University Community’s creation in SAE’s aftermath, but the office has often appeared disorganized and mission-less. Construction on campus has flourished, but student concerns are often swept under the rug in favor of promoting OU’s latest award or achievement — regardless of how students actually feel on a day-to-day basis. 

Despite his faults, Boren’s tenure has brought about a lot of positive change for the university. It’s safe to say that, even after his retirement, his legacy will be impossible to extricate from OU’s history. Boren’s successor has undoubtedly big shoes to fill. As June approaches, we wish President Boren a happy and healthy retirement, and we’re excited to see what possibilities the future holds.

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