OU President Joseph Harroz Jr. talks commitment to DEI, SEC financial impact | News

OU President Joseph Harroz Jr. talks commitment to DEI, SEC financial impact | News


OU President Joseph Harroz Jr., who just completed his third school year as president, sat down in an interview with OU Daily Wednesday in his office in Evans Hall to discuss diversity, equity and inclusion, the financial impacts of OU’s move to the Southeastern Conference and the consolidation of OU’s Native Nations Center into the Office of Tribal Relations. 

From November’s elections through the legislative session, DEI was a consistent point of conversation in the state. And in other states, like Florida, bills preventing colleges from spending money on DEI initiatives are passing through the legislature. When asked if Oklahoma were to pass further legislation limiting OU’s ability to serve as a place of belonging, one of the university’s pillars in its strategic plan, Harroz said OU will stick to who it is as an institution: 

“We don’t have a qualification on being a place of belonging. It’s a place of belonging. Hard stop,” Harroz said. 

Intertwined in OU’s identity is free speech, something Harroz said the institution is unflinching about protecting. It’s why, Harroz said, the OU Board of Regents adopted the Chicago Statement during its November meeting, which he previously referred to as consistent with OU’s belief that free speech and DEI can coexist.  

“Our Faculty Senate endorsed it. It’s a big statement about who we are, and how we’re going to deal with our future, which is the First Amendment,” Harroz said. “It’s something we’re going to stand behind and stand with, and not just when it’s convenient, but we have to be a place of belonging.” 

In January, Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters gave the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education a little over a week to compile a review of its 10-year spending history on and current materials used for DEI programs. Spending amounted to .29% of all higher education spending and .11% of state expenditures on higher education. Walters has since extended a similar request to K-12 institutions

In February, Walters also questioned if state universities were carrying out their role of helping young Oklahomans transition out of K-12 institutions and prepare for success in the workforce instead of being “worried about ideology.” 

Harroz said OU’s strategic plan is made of pillars that serve as foundations for the institution. He said DEI is critical to three out of five pillars: 

“We’ll talk about how, inside of (the first pillar) DEI is absolutely critical. You can’t prepare students for a life of meaning, success and impact in today’s world without understanding people not like yourself. You can’t,” Harroz said. “There’s two other of these five where it really impacts. Making sure that we’re accessible and affordable is a huge part of this and how we approach it. And then, most specifically, this idea that we want to be a place of belonging for all of our students and our faculty and our staff, regardless of our differences.”

Harroz said universities must maintain a commitment to free speech and encouraging diverse perspectives to flourish. 

“It’s not just in trainings, but it’s in preparing our students to be successful in their careers, whatever you pick. If you want to go into finance and make the most money of anybody ever, if you discount half the population not like you politically, we’ll just say red versus blue, you’ll miss half your market. Just from a pure financial side, that’s madness, let alone the citizen leader part,” Harroz said. 

Harroz referred to how when he attends events and discusses statistics surrounding the OU freshman class of 2026, he always can count on applause when he notes 39% of the class comes from historically disadvantaged backgrounds, and 25.4% are first-generation college students. He said those statistics are a statement of what OU is doing, who it is and where it is going. 

He said OU’s commitment to DEI is not just there, but it’s infused in the institution’s very foundation. 

“For me, you cannot realize three of your five pillars unless you are committed to being a place of belonging, and education, and understanding. When people want to engage in a war over division, don’t take the bait. It’s unbelievably destructive,” Harroz said. “Let’s focus on those things that unify: love, compassion, understanding, and realize that, at the university, we have the obligation to educate and teach, and it is core. One reason that institutions are around is partly to prepare students to live in a democracy, and you cannot keep a democracy together if people hate each other. And that’s actually how you kill a democracy.” 

SEC transition: partnering with city of Norman, financial impacts on OU

Days after the OU Board of Regents finalized the university’s early 2024 move from the Big 12 to the SEC, Harroz said OU is evaluating the transitions’ financial impacts. Although he said a move to the SEC will create short-term costs, he said it will result in positive outcomes in the future.

Currently, Harroz said OU remains one of few universities whose athletic department is self-sufficient. Data from USA Today in 2021 found OU was one of nine major college programs that didn’t rely on broader university support, along with current and future SEC programs like University of Texas, Texas A&M University, Louisiana State University and Mississippi State University. 

Harroz said a move to the SEC prevented OU from turning to tuition and fees to subsidize athletics as early as 2027-28, which he said would have occurred if OU stayed in the Big 12.

“By this move, it pushes it way off, so we’re not going to have to for the foreseeable future and midterm, and it gives us time to, hopefully, make that the truth forever,” Harroz said. “But this is a net very positive financial move for OU athletics.” 

During OU’s Friday Board of Regents meeting, Harroz estimated Oklahoma would forgo close to $40 million in the distributable revenue share it holds in its Big 12 TV rights through its early transition. 

According to The Athletic, the Big 12 reached a six-year media rights agreement with Fox and ESPN in 2022, averaging $380 million per year. The Athletic reported an average payout of $31.7 million per school for an expanded 12-member conference. 


With combined revenue from the NCAA, College Football Playoff and bowl payouts, and third-tier television rights, The Athletic reported the Big 12 would approach $50 million in average distribution. 

Although Harroz recognizes the cost of leaving the Big 12, he said the opportunities present a clear case for the move, and only two conferences, the Big 10 and SEC, could help OU achieve its goals.

“It puts us in a better financial position. And, while there is a short-term cost, over the mid-short term to mid-term and long term, there’s no question it better positions us to be healthy financially, and live up to winning championships and being able to compete for them, and, number two, not having to go to our students as long as possible by pushing tuition and fees and pushing it off by years and years,” Harroz said.  

Harroz also said the SEC’s impact will extend beyond athletics to new investments, research opportunities and jobs. 

He credited unity between town and gown to Norman Economic Development Committee CEO Lawerence McKinney, who created a six-month visioning process called ONE Norman with his wife Elizabeth to assist Norman with the development of its 20-year comprehensive plan. Harroz is one of 36 members of ONE Norman’s steering committee, which is guiding the visioning process through fall 2023.  

Lawrence first met with OU and Norman leaders like Harroz in a private meeting during summer 2022. Since then, Harroz said he’s seen more cooperation between town and gown on how to prepare for the conference change as partners. 

“In my time, it’s a high watermark, and everyone is, the private sector, us here at OU, the political figures, it feels like we’re really tied together,” Harroz said. “I think we’ve put together a detailed plan on what needs to be ready, and by when. … It’s everything from aviation and transportation to hotels and accommodations and entertainment. It’s across the board attracted new opportunities that the private, national market around how do you bring in outside money to help us be more SEC ready.” 

As Normanites envision ways to improve their strategic plan, Harroz said he’s wondered how components of OU’s strategic plan fit into the city, state, regional and national picture. He said OU is collaborating with Norman to build a strategic plan that includes OU so they can benefit each other and the state. 

“Just because OU knows who it is and what it wants to become, we can’t get there without partnerships. I like to say that we’re necessary to our state’s progress — we’re not sufficient,” Harroz said. “When you look at those macro goals of a state, there are three things I think everybody can generally agree upon. The state, for its citizens, can provide for the education of the population, they can provide for the health care of the population and economic opportunity. OK, so that’s what the state can do. What’s our role inside of that? And a big part of our thinking, and it occurs at the city level as well, is where do we fit into that plan and how can we help fortify it.”

ONE Norman has held two visioning meetings thus far to identify areas of improvement to help Norman become a stronger, more attractive and livable city and address metrics reflecting how Norman lines up with other cities

The consolidation of OU’s Native Nations Center into OU’s Office of Tribal Relations

Harroz commented further on the merging of OU’s Native Nations Center into the Office of Tribal Relations, saying the move into the president’s office will elevate each while encouraging OU to consider how Native nations are infused in the university’s identity.  

The move, which occurred in early March, was criticized by Brian Burkhart, the former interim director of the Native Nations Center, as dissolving much of the work it does for students. He said the center provides services for Native American students and local tribes, including research collaborations, workforce development and internships. 

“There’s all this kind of stuff that we’re working on,” Burkhard told OU Daily. “It’s hard to imagine that any of that would still be able to function through the president’s office.”

OU recently hired former Norman resident Tana Fitzpatrick into the role of associate vice president of tribal relations, replacing the former tribal liaison position in the Department of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. 

Previously, Fitzpatrick worked as a senior counselor to the assistant secretary of Indian affairs in the U.S. Department of the Interior, the program examiner for the Office of Management and Budget in the Executive Office of the President and staff attorney for the National Indian Gaming Commission. She has also worked as a prosecutor and in-house counsel for tribal governments.

Harroz told OU Daily this move is strategic in that it will help OU evaluate how it engages with tribes, promotes Indigenous research, attracts Native American students and preserves culture. He said he hopes this transition will help OU center these things as a part of the university’s fabric in a way that leverages the opportunity OU has to scale. 

In the future, Harroz said part of that opportunity could include a strategic plan for the Office of Tribal Relations.

“Having Tana Fitzpatrick in that role, combined with (how) we’re going to hire a new position into the research side itself, part of what we demand of ourselves is to elevate it and apply strategy and a strategic plan for this that elevates the entire institution,” Harroz said. 


This story was edited by Karoline Leonard and Alexia Aston. 

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