OSU regents question selection of Birdwell for AD

Friday, June 14th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) _ An Oklahoma State University regent questioned whether school officials violated Oklahoma's Open Meeting Act when they replaced outgoing Athletic Director Terry Don Phillips with administrator Harry Birdwell without a national search.

``I don't know for sure if there is any violation of the Open Meeting Act, but I know it doesn't feel right,'' said regent Dennis Howard, who also is a commissioner for the state Agriculture Department.

``We are public servants who are expected to do their business in public. You read in the paper all the time about (Attorney General) Drew Edmondson looking into violators of this law.''

OSU President James Halligan announced Birdwell's appointment on Monday, less than a week after Phillips' June 4 departure to take the same post at Clemson. The choice of Birdwell, who has limited career experience with college athletics, must be approved by the regents.

Howard told The Daily Oklahoman and the Tulsa World he would probably not support Birdwell's appointment.

As a public board, OSU regents must post a meeting notice if a quorum of the nine-member board convenes for a meeting in person, by telephone or electronic means.

``I got a fax at 11:13 a.m. telling me the new athletic director would be named at 1 p.m.,'' OSU regent Jack Givens said. ``They didn't even let me know until less than two hours before the announcement.''

But Regents chairman Fred Harlan of Okmulgee said the board did not violate the law.

``We were very mindful to honor the law,'' Harlan said. ``There was never more than four regents on a conference call at one time. We did what we thought was best for OSU.''

Halligan, who made the decision to recommend Birdwell as athletic director, was in Italy on OSU business and was not available for comment. He should be back in time for the June 21 board meeting in Okmulgee, spokesman Nestor Gonzales said.

Givens and Howard said Birdwell probably should have been named interim athletic director, which would have given OSU's next president a chance to name his or her own choice for the position. Halligan announced last month that he plans to retire.

Harlan said Halligan's pending retirement was a key reason why he moved quickly to fill the position.

``There's been so much uncertainty with the announcement that Terry Don is leaving,'' Harlan said. ``Some people are wondering who is guiding the ship.''

The university is attempting to raise $75 million to $100 million to renovate Lewis Field. Birdwell has extensive knowledge of the project and is expected to do well raising funds for it.

Regent Burns Hargis said he had no problem with naming Birdwell as interim director, but that the announcement didn't mention a temporary status.

``I need to see the deal being given him,'' Hargis said. ``I've heard different numbers; I don't know the terms.''

Harlan said Birdwell's employment contract is still being developed and that it will be available for board action next week.