OU President: Education Improvement Can Make State 'So Much More'
NORMAN, Oklahoma - An Oklahoma lawmaker said he'll rewrite his bill to make sure AP history classes are not cut.
State Representative Dan Fisher backtracked Thursday after raising a firestorm of national criticism, saying he just wants the state board of education to revise the course work and test.
Fisher claims the class doesn't teach enough about “American exceptionalism.”
The national ridicule heaped on Oklahoma this week because of that legislative effort to kill AP U.S. history high school courses just served to reinforce my choice to begin this So Much More series with Boren.
I can't think of another Oklahoman who's been as forceful and as public an advocate for moving this state forward over his almost 50-year public service career.
Moving Oklahoma ahead with brain power has been Boren's approach for more than 20 years in Norman.
He is someone who knows the power of education is transformative in the on-going struggle to make Oklahoma, So Much More.
Twice each week, the classroom is where Boren goes to re-charge, to think, to grow and to question, still learning at 73.
“I would say one of the reasons I believe in the future so much is I'm around the young people I'm teaching at the University of Oklahoma every day. And we're not last. We're first,” he said.
Boren sings the praises of his university at every turn.
“We have the highest ACT score average ever at a public university in the history of this state, our freshman class this year is the best we've ever enrolled,” Boren said.
He'll come to meet many of them in his course in American government and politics he teaches every semester - fitting for the man who, 21 years ago, gave up his U.S. Senate seat with two years remaining in his third term to become the president of the University of Oklahoma.
Boren came home because he saw a chance to use OU as the state's economic spark plug, to give the university a reputation as much for academics as for football.
“You want to talk about national rankings, OK, who's No. 1? We're No. 1 and we ought to say so, and it's No. 1 in an area of academic excellence,” he said.
Under Boren's watch, more National Merit Scholars have enrolled at OU than at any other American university.
It's the fastest growing university research park in the nation, bringing with it a thousand percent increase in research funding to Norman.
OU is No. 1 in meteorology, top five in petroleum engineering and nationally-recognized for medical research in cancer and diabetes.
The university has scores of new programs and scholarships, an Honors College and a College of International Studies, all because Boren wants OU students to engage with the world.
“When I graduated from high school in Seminole, I bet nobody had a passport, nobody went off to college with a passport; now if they're coming to OU, they'd better start getting a passport, they're gonna travel,” Boren said.
If being OU's biggest booster is Boren's biggest joy, his role as chief fundraiser can be his most challenging.
He's brought in almost $2.5 billion, but still, it's not enough; not when the oil industry sags, not in a state whose legislature is providing $100 million less for higher education than it was in 2008.
“But I just get so tired of hearing that well, the students at universities can just take care of themselves because they can raise tuition, no, you're putting more burden on the families,” Boren said.
So his scholarship drives are ongoing.
Consider that when Boren was governor in 1978, the state provided 52 percent of a typical OU student's college costs. Today, it's 16 percent and at the OU Medical College it's 7 percent.
“Who makes up the difference? Well, our donors have made up the difference, our research has made up some of the difference, but most has been made up by our students and their families," Boren said. "So while the state's part, the state's investment, share, in our universities and colleges and schools has dropped, the parents and students have had to contribute more than twice as much."
And though Boren has managed to keep OU's in-state tuition third-lowest in the Big 12, he's dealing with a legislature that cut the income tax rate by a quarter percent, while simultaneously staring up from a $600 million budget hole.
“You can't tell me that the average Oklahoman wants $18 a year in tax cuts more than they care about educating our children or grandchildren, get them prepared for a life, and rebuilding the strength of our economy and our society. I don't believe that,” Boren said.
What he does believe, is that when these students reach positions of leadership they won't settle for an Oklahoma that lags behind the rest of the nation.
That their Oklahoma won't be an apology, but a declaration. Advancement will be a natural expectation passed along in a classroom and spread across the world from the place he knew all along could be that spark plug.
“I truly love what I'm doing and these students," Boren said. "I don't think they can begin to know how much I care about them, care about their futures and what a joy it brings to me to see their idealism, to see their enthusiasm and their abilities and to know they're coming to life here."
Have you ever contacted your state senator or state representative? Phone call, email, letter? Do you even know who they are?
If not, you can find out all that information here.
If you've got a son or daughter at an Oklahoma public university or college, or hope to in the future, this might be a good time to use it.
Otherwise, your silence speaks volumes to the legislature.
If you know someone who's making this state smarter, healthier, a better place to be email firstname.lastname@example.org