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OU President David Boren announces his pending retirement Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017, on campus. (William W. Savage III)
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University of Oklahoma President David Boren announced this afternoon that he will retire at the end of the school year, effective June 30, contingent upon selection of his replacement.

The former governor and U.S. senator has been president of the state’s flagship university for 23 years and has previously stated he would like to break former President George Lynn Cross’s 25-year record for longest tenure in the position, which included time as president emeritus.

Widely seen as Oklahoma’s most powerful living political figure, the 76-year-old Boren underwent heart bypass surgery in March.

After replacing Richard Van Horn as OU president Dec. 1, 1994, Boren orchestrated numerous initiatives to develop the university’s campuses, programs, national profile and international partnerships.

“The university has never been more important in our history than it is today,” Boren said Wednesday just past 2 p.m. in the Donald W. Reynolds Performing Arts Center on campus. “The university is a place where we connect to our past. It helps us understand who we are. This institution has helped to define what America is all about — a place where ability, tenacity, spirit and community help us all to realize our potential.

Boren praised the value of education to a room full of students 50-plus years his junior.

“No institution is more important to our future. The university is the linchpin to our society because it is the point of contact between generations,” Boren said. “If this does not happen at the university, it will not happen at all, and the value and wisdom of past generations will be lost.”

Recent political positions

In recent years, Boren has been a vocal critic of political gridlock at both the federal and state level. He spearheaded Oklahoma’s State Question 779 in 2016, the $0.01 state sales tax for education that initially polled well but ultimately failed 59 percent to 41 percent.

“We have a very serious problem when we continue to rank last among all the 50 states in the union on what we spend to educate our students,” Boren said at the SQ 779 watch party Nov. 8. “We cannot allow this result to stand. We cannot be last in the nation on what we spend on our children and education.

“We cannot secure our future by ignorance.”

Oklahoma has reduced appropriations to higher education this decade.

Boren’s announcement comes days before a special legislative session scheduled for Sept. 25, which could include long-term revenue proposals and a school-teacher pay raise. But higher education funding was not included in Gov. Mary Fallin’s direction for the extraordinary session.

The OU Board of Regents will ultimately select a successor to Boren. After his speech, Boren told reporters he will continue teaching political science courses at the university when his tenure as president ends.

The Boren family name

Prior to OU President David Boren’s announcement Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017, OU Regent Clay Bennett, right, speaks with OU Athletic Director Joe Castiglione. Former OU football coach Bob Stoops can be seen in the rear. (William W. Savage III)

Boren’s father, Lyle Boren, represented Oklahoma as a U.S. congressman, as did his son, Dan, who currently works for the Chickasaw Nation.

David Boren is also the nephew of Mae Boren Axton, a songwriter known as the “Queen Mother of Nashville.”

He joins former OU head football coach Bob Stoops as the second high-profile university employee to step down in 2017, though Stoops took a separate position within OU’s athletic department.