David Boren Celebrates 20 Years As OU's President

Monday, November 17th 2014, 7:28 pm
By: News On 6

It's been 20 years since former U.S. Senator David Boren became President David Boren – president of the University of Oklahoma, that is.

The political world was shocked that he'd give up his Senate seat with two years left on his term, but the man making the move was excited. He said running OU was a job he'd always wanted; and the state, and the university that carries its name, have grown and prospered because he has the job.

On the walls of the reception room of the president of the University of Oklahoma, you can trace a career of public service that stretches from Oklahoma's youngest governor to three-term United State Senator.

Step inside the President's office, and the man whose public life is played out in photos on the wall can tell you the moment he realized he'd had enough of a Washington that even 20 years ago was beginning to be gummed-up with gridlock.

He'd been trying for a decade to pass bipartisan campaign finance reform.

“It was about the tenth time, ten straight years, I'd tried to pass that bill so I was like Sisyphus rolling the stone up the hill, only to have the stone go back down and try to roll it back up again the next year,” Boren said.

“And I thought to myself, could I do a lot of good just rolling this stone up the hill again year after year after year? I could go on the Senate floor today and start debating the issues, and I wouldn't have to do much homework.

“There's still the same problems that were there that are still not solved because people are fighting with each other instead of getting together and working out a solution, so I thought, you know, I think I could do more if I go home,” he said.

Twenty years ago, OU was teetering on the brink of becoming a second-class university. It was in a state of atrophy, both academically and physically.

The regents asked Boren to come home and rescue it.

He was tired of pushing that Washington boulder, and looking to do something he loved again.

“Come home where we could make a difference. We could build something special, we could build this center of excellence that would secure our future, and I think we're doing that,” Boren said.

Over the past 20 years of the Boren era, the state's flagship university has undergone a remarkable turnaround:

  • It's national and international reputation has skyrocketed.
  • $2 billion of capital improvements on its Norman, Oklahoma City and Tulsa campuses.
  • A donor base that has grown six-fold, with fundraising approaching a billion dollars, that has allowed for a quadrupling of endowed professorships.
  • An emphasis on academics that has placed OU in the top ranks of American research universities.

It has become a university that reflects the energy and high standards of the man whose past life plays out on the wall of photos, but who couldn't wait to put that life behind him to come home and do something worthwhile.

“I remember one person saying to me I was trying to make this decision, ‘Go invest your life where you can do the most good, invest in the next generation of the place that you love,' and so that's exactly what I've done,” Boren said.

Like any good husband, Boren's quick to credit his wife, Molly Shi Boren, for all her work enhancing OU's campuses with gardens, artwork, and 20,000 new trees.