OKLAHOMA CITY — Gov. Kevin Stitt announced Friday that he’s appointing an out-of-state businessman to the University of Oklahoma’s governing board following campus protests over a racist video earlier this year.
Stitt said he interviewed more than a dozen candidates before deciding Eric Stevenson, 55, of Columbus, Ohio, was the “perfect candidate” to fill a vacancy on the OU Board of Regents.
The Republican governor said he met with current regents who told him it was imperative that he select a university alum who can play a critical role in overseeing the university’s finances.
“We all agreed that it was equally critical to find an Oklahoman that would bring diversity to the board that would represent a large portion of our students at the University of Oklahoma,” Stitt said.
The university recently faced criticism after two students, who have since withdrawn, created a blackface video. The next week, a man in blackface was videoed walking around the campus.
Because of those two incidents, members of the university community have called for making substantive changes, increasing diversity and implementing zero tolerance policies for racism.
Stevenson is a black University of Oklahoma graduate who grew up in Wagoner. He currently works as a senior vice president at Nationwide, and said he’s excited to help make a difference at a school that changed his life.
Though he doesn’t live in the state, Stevenson said he remains connected to Oklahoma, the university and the Norman community. He said he frequently returns to campus and all travel will be at his own expense.
“The most important thing that I’m going (to do) in the first year is listen and learn, ask lots of question, make as many connections as I can,” he said. “I think that outside perspective will make a difference. I think that will be a nice balance.”
Stevenson will serve a seven-year term. He’ll replace Clayton Bennett, who resigned for health reasons. As part of Stevenson’s role, he’ll also oversee operations at Cameron University in Lawton and Rogers State in Claremore.
Dr. Leslie Rainbolt-Forbes, chair of the Regents, said Stevenson brings a unique complement of many business skills and will be “the perfect fit.”
“I have no doubt that these will be valuable to our board,” she said. “His extensive strategic planning experience, his experience in being corporate management as well as his outstanding national level communications experience are going to be assets that will benefit all of us.”
Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at email@example.com.