NORMAN, Okla. – A former Oklahoma governor, U.S. senator and current president of the state's flagship university announced Wednesday he plans to retire after the current school year.
David Boren, 76, made the announcement on the OU campus Wednesday afternoon.
“I’ve always understood there would come a time when I should pass the baton to a new president,” said Boren during a news conference at the Donald W. Reynolds Performing Arts Center. “I’ve thought long and hard about what is best for our university. I have wanted the transition to occur when the university was at its maximum strength. I believe that the right time has come.”
The former state legislator, governor and U.S. senator has served as the university’s president since 1994. Speculation began Wednesday morning after the university said Boren would be making an important announcement about the university's future later in the day.
Hundreds packed the Holmberg Hall auditorium and gave Boren a standing ovation when he came on to the stage.
“The university has never in our history been more important than today. It is the guardian of intellectual freedom. It is a place where we learn to think for ourselves. The university is a place where we connect to our past, helps us understand who we are,” Boren said.
During the roughly 15 minute event, Boren reflected on how the university has grown in academics, diversity and now its potential for the future.
“I was convinced that together, we could make diversity our strength and we could build a new spirit of community as an example for the rest of the country,” he said. “Because of you, because of the entire OU family, many of these dreams have already come true.”
It’s because of that strength that Boren says he feels comfortable walking away from his position in June of next year, or at least until a new president is chosen.
“I hope the next person loves the university as much as I do. I deeply love it.”
His tenure did face challenges outside the classroom, most notably being when a video surfaced in 2015 of OU fraterntity members singing a racist a racist chant, which he addressed after the news conference.
"I think, probably the greatest challenge was the incident that involved the SAE chapter because the entire nation was watching," Boren said. "That incident was going to define who we were. And when our students, on their own, spontaneously started marching -- even in the dark. At our university, (that video) is not who we are."
Boren says he will retire on June 30, 2018, at the end of this school year. At that time, he says he hopes a successor is named. If no one is selected, Boren says he will remain as president until a new president is chosen.
Boren is the first person in state history to have served as Governor of Oklahoma, U.S. Senator and President of the University of Oklahoma. He also served in the Oklahoma Legislature.
Boren is one of a handful of university presidents across the nation who teaches an undergraduate course every semester. University officials say he will continue to teach a political science class after his retirement.
“It’s sad to see such a great president leave the university,” said graduate student Timothy Crisp. “President Boren’s done wonderful things for us. I know there’s hope for the future.”
However, his retirement did take some students by shock.
“D-Bo was an amazing president!” said freshman Grace Welsh, using a nickname for Boren. “Definitely his spirit and his lovingness – he loves his students and you can just tell, really, just being at the university.”
Boren joins a short list of big names to announce their retirement from the university this year. Former OU football coach Bob Stoops, who retired in June, was also at Boren’s announcement Wednesday.
“His impact on this university is immeasurable. It’s just been incredible all that he’s done,” said Stoops, who was at the helm of the OU football program for 18 years. “I think him for being such a mentor, a leader for this university. For me personally – a great friend.”
The newly retired football coach brushed aside the question if he would be looking to fill Boren’s shoes at the university.
“That job’s not for me to take, that’s for sure,” Stoops said, laughing. “I’m a football coach. It’s far different than leading a university and he’s done it as well as you can do it.”
After the event was over, students and university staff lingered in the auditorium as Boren spoke with the press, waiting for an opportunity to take photos with him. A keepsake for the influence Boren has had on their lives.
“Serving as your president has been the most rewarding period of my life. So many of you in this room have rubbed off on me. So may special friendships have been made. It’s impossible for me to express my appreciation to all of you,” Boren said in his closing remarks.
“Thank all of you for making it so rewarding. Because of you, as the chant says, our university will live on stronger than ever.”