NORMAN — The University of Oklahoma has a new leader: Joseph Harroz.
The university’s College of Law dean was named the interim president following a six hour board of regents meeting that began Thursday and extended early into Friday morning. Members of the OU community were widely supportive of the choice.
“I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with Joe Harroz. His imagination, sensitivity, good humor and professionalism are exactly what is needed at OU at this time,” presidential professor and Headington College fellow Keith Gaddie said.
Harroz was a finalist for the OU president position last year, which eventually went to former energy executive James Gallogly. Several members of the board of regents, including Leslie Rainbolt-Forbes, former Gov. Frank Keating, C. Renzi Stone and Phil Albert were involved in the previous presidential search committee.
“The regents were well aware of Joe’s capabilities from the thorough vetting done by the presidential search committee last year,” Rainbolt-Forbes said. “It was through that process we were reminded how contagious his passion and enthusiasm are and how seriously he takes accountability and responsibility.”
Student Government Association President Adran Gibbs said he was optimistic that Harroz will be committed to students. U.S Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) praised Harroz’s appointment, congratulating him and commending the board of regents for their choice.
“In the days ahead, I look forward to working with him as he pursues what is best for OU’s future,” he said. “Certainly, OU is in good hands.”
The appointment is not without controversy, however. The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation is conducting an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct levied against former OU President David Boren and former vice president Tripp Hall. The university has its own Title IX investigation into the allegations, and hired the Jones Day law firm to assist in the investigation.
Harroz worked for Boren when he was a U.S. senator as his legislative director and legal counsel. In 1996, Boren brought him to OU to work as the university’s general counsel. Jess Eddy, the former OU student and employee who has accused Boren of sexual misconduct, was present at Thursday night’s meeting. He said Harroz’s appointment represents a conflict of interest.
"I'm in disbelief,” he said. “I cannot believe the regents think it’s okay to appoint Joe as interim president at a time like this, when they're investigating David Boren for sexual misconduct. To put a man who legally represented Boren for decades in that position, which will oversee the Title IX appeals process, is just beyond me. These regents are compromised, unequivocally compromised.”
Rainbolt-Forbes said the regents will remain in charge of the personnel investigation. The Title IX process for sexual misconduct allegations includes an appeals process in which the president of the university normally takes part. During a student meet-and-greet on Friday, Harroz addressed a question about that investigation. Blake Douglas, summer news editor for the OU Daily, reported Harroz said the regents told Harroz he will not be involved.
“It’s a very important question, and one thing the board made very clear last night is that I will not be involved with anything going on with that investigation,” Harroz said.