On a November afternoon in 2010, then-University of Oklahoma President David Boren’s red Jaguar pulled up to the Spirit Shop in Norman.
Boren handed a $100 bill to Jess Eddy, his 21-year-old teaching assistant.
“Get something for yourself,” Eddy recalls Boren telling him.
The former U.S. senator and Oklahoma governor, then 69 years old, stayed in the car and requested Belvedere vodka from his classroom aide. For himself, Eddy picked scotch, not his first bottle nor his last.
The pair flew to Houston for a weekend of university development. Boren and other top OU administrators — including former Vice President of University Development Tripp Hall — were attending events for alumni, fundraising and student recruitment.
When the first evening concluded, Eddy wound up in Boren’s hotel room with the bottles of liquor.
“The circumstances on their face were inappropriate,” Eddy says now, eight years later.
In multiple interviews with NonDoc, Eddy described the scenario above and other events from late 2010 through 2012 in which he alleges unwanted sexual touching by Boren and, in one instance, Hall. Eddy said the events left him shaken personally and professionally, altering his life in ways he is still trying to understand.
“I’ve always regarded these experiences as my truth, my story, my suffering and my pain — that it was my right to share it with the people I trusted and keep it from people I didn’t,” Eddy said. “But recently I realized that is no longer OK. It’s now clear that continuing to conceal what happened to me would prevent others from the justice and peace they deserve. I just can’t do that. I’m not going to live with that, too.”
Earlier this week, Eddy said he spoke with the Norman Police Department about the incidents he alleges in this story.
Five of Eddy’s longtime friends have told NonDoc their memories of the events in question, as described by Eddy at the time. While details vary slightly, each person’s recollection helps paint a picture of Eddy’s allegations. Two of the five agreed to use their names in this article.
‘Yeah, this is what you think it is’
Days before the Houston trip, Eddy worried that he needed to prepare for David Boren’s sexual advances. He had heard rumors.
“I knew I didn’t have a function there,” Eddy said. “It wasn’t like I was speaking or talking with students. And I had asked other people in the administration, ‘Is this what I think it is?’ And they were like, ‘Yeah, this is what you think it is.’ And that’s when I got the advice not to drink too much and to talk about my girlfriend.”
Eddy’s girlfriend in November 2010, Kara Underwood, confirmed his story to NonDoc this week.
“In great detail, I have heard the story a few times from him,” Underwood said. “He doesn’t have motivation to make this up, and he will most likely receive a backlash from this.”
Eddy described his experience in Boren’s hotel room succinctly: excessive flattery and flirtation followed by an advance. While Eddy was able to extract himself from the situation in Boren’s hotel room, he said the next two years featured a string of uncomfortable interactions.
“The idea was to keep your potential on track and stay in his favor without getting sexually assaulted — to balance the two,” Eddy said.
With varying degrees of specificity, all five of Eddy’s friends who spoke with NonDoc said Eddy told them the same story soon after the Houston trip. Four said Eddy did not want to discuss the situation deeply, something they found out of character.
“What I can confirm is that he said he was in Boren’s hotel room with Boren, that they were both drinking alcohol, and that he said Boren made an advance and was being very touchy with him in a sexual manner,” said P.J. Wolbach, a high school friend of Eddy’s who is currently enrolled at OU.
The balance tilts
The next morning in Houston, Eddy climbed into the rear row of a large SUV with Tripp Hall, a longtime Boren confidant and employee.
“He asked, ‘Did you have a good time last night?’” Eddy recalled of Hall. “I said, ‘Yeah.’ And he very warmly said, ‘I’m really happy to hear that,’ and rubbed the inside of my thigh to the point that he touched my genital area.”
Reached Tuesday morning by phone, Hall said he is “not at liberty” to talk about any events being investigated by OU and that he is recovering from cancer surgery. Asked if he had ever been romantically involved with any university students or staff, he replied: “Absolutely not, that’s ridiculous. I’m not going to answer any questions like that.”
Asked if there was any reason someone would make allegations about inappropriate physical contact, Hall said “No.”
“Please, just respect my healing right now with cancer and everything, please. I really am offended by this,” Hall said. “I just told you already that I don’t have any comments to make, and then for you to continue the questioning is just really unprofessional and inappropriate. I’m a graduate of OU — public relations journalism. That’s not how I was taught. I’m offended.”
Four of the five people who confirmed Eddy spoke about his experiences at the time said he mentioned an inappropriate touch in a vehicle. Two recalled Hall by name without being asked.
“I was a little shocked to find out that someone in a higher status at the university feels the ability or need to do that to somebody who is a student and employee,” Underwood said.
Wolbach said Eddy relayed the story to him and another friend. He said doing so was clearly difficult for Eddy.
“It sounded like Boren was trying to liquor Jess up and have his way with him. That’s the impression we got from him,” Wolbach said. “He didn’t consent. That’s the other important thing. I believe he was pretty repulsed by all of this.”
‘I would pretend like it didn’t bother me’
In the five months after his Houston interactions with Boren and Hall, Eddy bought more bottles of scotch.
In separate events, he was arrested for disturbing the peace, DUI and vandalizing a police car. In April 2011, he was arrested for public intoxication during the Norman Music Festival. The wild spring semester left Eddy in a detoxification rehab.
“Having hindsight now to help me, I can see that very soon after [the Houston trip], Jess, for lack of a better term, started spiraling,” Wolbach said. “It absolutely kind of shook his faith in authority and things like that.”
Eddy said Boren called him while in rehab and asked that they connect when Eddy left the hospital.
“That’s when he started bringing me into his office to talk about my personal issues,” Eddy said. “He would kiss me on the cheek, he would touch my ass.”
Eddy estimated that he met with Boren “once or twice a semester” in 2011 and 2012, and he said the unwanted sexual advances continued.
“I was just confused. I would just pretend like it didn’t bother me,” Eddy said. “Now, I understand the severity of the trauma and the impact of the confusion it can have on a young guy.”
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a person who has known Eddy for more than two decades said Eddy “felt betrayed and deceived.”
“When he got back from that trip, he wasn’t really the same. I remember him talking about it,” the individual said. “I think it was detrimental in the fact that Boren was a role model in his life.”
Boren attorney: ‘I want to deal with fact and truth’
On Feb. 14, Nolan Clay of The Oklahoman reported that OU had enlisted the Jones Day law firm to investigate Boren for allegations of sexual misconduct against male aides. Through his friend and spokesperson, Boren denied the report.
“Even though we have received no complaint, President Boren emphatically denies any inappropriate behavior or unlawful activity,” said Bob Burke, an attorney. “He has been a dedicated public servant for more than 50 years and his life is an open book in Oklahoma.”
On March 1, Burke confirmed with media that Jones Day had requested an interview with Boren. Burke and Tulsa attorney Clark Brewster, who is also representing Boren, said the 77-year-old civic leader would cooperate.
“They’ve requested an opportunity to meet with him and we’re going to operate in good faith to try to get that accomplished as soon as practical,” Brewster told The Oklahoman. “He’s directed us to be responsive.”
Calls to Boren, Burke and Brewster on Tuesday morning initially went unreturned. Brewster answered a second call and said he had “no idea” what allegations Eddy would be making.
“I don’t know you, but (if) I call somebody up who is representing somebody and I say, ‘I need you to tell me what this person said or what your person says about (something),’ that’s just horseshit,” Brewster said. “We’re going to proceed through the investigation, and if there is an issue that needs to be addressed, we will address it at the proper setting.”
Brewster declined to answer whether he and Eddy had spoken this month.
“I want to deal with fact and truth, OK?” Brewster said. “And (I want to) deal with facts in front of me, not some speculation or some conversational thing that somebody said that somebody said.”
NonDoc has learned that Jones Day has spoken with Eddy for its investigation. Eddy said he could not provide details about ongoing discussions with Jones Day or the university, but he expressed frustration with the situation, a driving factor in his decision to speak publicly.
“I have no faith that the university is interested in protecting the victims or getting the full truth,” Eddy said. “I know that people still employed at OU who are active in carrying out investigations were witnesses of Boren’s conduct and didn’t do anything about it.”
To that end, Eddy said his past distrust of — and unfavorable interactions with — law enforcement partially stemmed from the events alleged in this story.
“I was furious with authority. It totally was (related),” he said. “Sometime after talking to some relatives, I remember saying, ‘How can I respect this institution? How can I go to OU and be in government when I know this information about the moral decay and how corrupt it is. And I’m supposed to respect this guy?'”
Despite struggling with those events and the death of a close friend, Eddy said he stayed in contact with Boren, even accepting a job with the President’s Action Line and visiting an OU psychiatrist at Boren’s direction.
“It was a bewildering experience. They were friends,” Eddy said of the psychiatrist. “The guy would talk about how great David Boren was and how special that made me — the same kind of language Boren used. It was crazy.”
Looking back on his visits to the OU psychiatrist, Eddy called the situation “outlandish.”
“I remember sitting through those meetings thinking, ‘I can’t tell this guy anything. I need to appear to be talking about deep stuff. I need to appear to be making progress,’” Eddy recalled.
Anticipating the skeptics
Over the years, Eddy thought a great deal about taking some sort of action. He thought about suicide, and he thought about suing Boren, something he fears will now be used against him.
After The Oklahoman reported that Boren was being investigated, Eddy said “it brought the trauma from the past back to the present” and left him frazzled and unable to sleep.
Eddy said Brewster called him and told him that a Title IX “intake summary” had been filed with the university by someone Eddy had spoken to previously about the Houston trip. Eddy said Brewster asked him for a letter stating that the allegations attributed to him were untrue. Eddy said he wrote a brief letter to that effect and sent it to Brewster.
“It wasn’t the truth,” Eddy said of the letter. “Brewster asked me for it. I was in an emotional crisis, and I was scared of Boren, and I did it in a quick second. That was a Thursday (March 14).”
Asked about Eddy, Brewster said he was “not going to talk about witnesses.”
On Sunday, March 17, Eddy was “desperate for relief” and did something he said he now regrets, in that it could change public perception of his story.
“I (called Boren and) asked him for compensation for my pain and suffering because I was reeling from that (and) realizing that now I’m at the center of an investigation, and I’m basically on the brink of killing the investigation and covering up his shit,” Eddy said.
Eddy said Boren denied there was alcohol in the Houston hotel room and claimed it connected to an adjoining room where others were present.
“He just completely started to lie,” Eddy said. “He said, ‘Jess, I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ He said a bunch of different stuff. He said, ‘I took you to Houston because you were going through problems and that it would be good for you to get out of town for a while.’ That’s ridiculous.”
After that, Eddy said he realized he was in a corner and had no choice but to speak publicly.
“That Sunday was the lowest point of my life. That’s the truth,” Eddy said. “I felt all the burden of the unknown number of victims. I felt like I had compromised my integrity.”
From a Bible to #MeToo
Rumors of David Boren’s sexual behavior have trailed his legendary political career for 50 years. While running for the U.S. Senate in 1978, he swore on a Bible: “I am not a homosexual or bisexual.”
In 1993, LGBTQ rights activist Michael Petrelis called a Washington, D.C. press conference alleging that Boren was the unnamed U.S. senator “who has engaged in same-sex sexual harassment of his gay staffers” as detailed in Michelangelo Signorile’s book Queer in America: Sex, the Media, and the Closets of Power.
In April 1994, Boren called reports that he would resign from the U.S. Senate and become OU president “absolutely false.” Hall, who was serving as Boren’s director of eastern Oklahoma operations, said “there’s nothing to that” and called the media reports “ridiculous.”
In November 1994, Boren officially assumed the university’s top post and is widely credited with transforming OU’s academic trajectory, research programs and campus infrastructure during his 24 years at the helm. Hall spearheaded numerous fundraising efforts for Boren, dramatically increasing the amount of private money given to the university for building projects, scholarships and endowments.
In 1995, a fellow Oxford classmate and Rhodes Scholar named W. Scott Thompson published The Price of Achievement: Coming Out in Reagan Days. Of Boren, the former member of the Ford and Reagan administrations wrote: “I was aware that David was gay before I was aware of my own homosexuality.”
With the legalization of gay marriage and the advancement of LGBTQ rights, questions about Boren’s sexuality might seem irrelevant in 2019, Bible swearing aside.
At the same time, the ongoing #MeToo movement has heightened American sensitivity about powerful men leveraging their professional resources for sexual gratification.
“We have had a cultural shift to where these things are not OK,” Wolbach said. “I think the idea that these people who have committed these monstrous acts — that they are not free from them and they can still be punished for them — is a great thing as far as where we’re at with our society today.”
Second OU graduate alleges sexual battery by Tripp Hall
By telling his experience to certain people within the OU community, Eddy said he heard a string of stories about other students and staff members finding themselves in uncomfortable situations.
Through a mutual friend, one of those stories came from Levi Hilliard, a 24-year-old employee of the University Club, which caters OU events. A waiter and bartender, Hilliard said Tripp Hall touched him inappropriately multiple times in 2017 and 2018.
“There were several incidences. The very, very first was back in probably February 2017,” Hilliard told NonDoc. “He came up behind me, and he patted me on the butt a few times, and of course I was like, ‘Wait, what?’ But I just didn’t think anything of it at the time, and I just went on my way.”
But during a Feb. 17, 2018, OU donor appreciation event at the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History, Hilliard said Hall went much further while Hilliard was bartending with two female coworkers.
“He had obviously been drinking before he arrived. He comes up, and he asks for a glass of wine,” Hilliard said. “So we pour him a glass of red wine, and instead of grabbing the glass, he grabs the bottle and starts chugging from it.”
Hilliard said Hall walked behind the bar and hugged the two women.
“Then he came up to me and he leans in for a kiss, so I kind of start leaning away, and it was at that point that he used his right hand to grab the side of my head, and with his left hand he was grabbing my shirt on my left arm, and he pulled me in and kissed me on the neck. He said, ‘Yeah, that’s the stuff,’ and then he walked away.'”
Hilliard said his coworkers “were just as shocked as I was,” and he said he texted his supervisor about what had happened.
“He said, ‘We’ll talk about it on Monday, and we’ll get this sorted out.’ And then, of course, nothing ever came of it,” said Hilliard, a 2017 OU graduate.
At the time, Hall served on the Board of Trustees for the University Club, which employs Hilliard. He said Hall made another overt advance during a 2018 football game while Hilliard was carrying a load of dishes.
“All of a sudden, I feel a tug on the back of my shirt, and I turn around and it’s Tripp,” Hilliard said. “He comes up, he grabs my butt and then kisses me on the neck and says, ‘If you need any help with that, let me know.'”
Hilliard said he did not report the incidents to OU’s Title IX Office.
“I didn’t know how, and I guess I had hope that if I reported it to my supervisor they would deal with it and maybe they would file a Title IX report,” Hilliard said.
NonDoc reviewed text message communications from a woman who knows Hilliard and asked not to be named in this article. Her recap of the situation involving Hall aligns with Hilliard’s statements.
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‘He was so powerful’
While Hilliard remains employed at the University Club and Eddy worked as OU’s director of strategic initiatives near the end of Boren’s presidential tenure, Eddy said their stories illustrate corruption that tangibly harms young people on campus.
“You hear the stories, but as a kid at 21, it’s impossible to comprehend,” Eddy said. “David Boren was one of my heroes, and to learn that kind of moral decay, abuse and corruption was rampant, it was both the most devastating, infuriating and confusing reality that I have ever faced and am still facing.”
Eddy’s university employment ended in 2018 after he criticized Gallogly’s administration for putting a Collegiate Recovery Program on hold. The program had been authorized by Boren, and Eddy admits that some might find it weird that he re-enrolled in, graduated from and ultimately applied to work at the University of Oklahoma years after his life-changing trip to Houston.
Sometimes, the past eight-and-a-half years baffle Eddy, too.
“What was exceedingly confusing about it was that you hear the rumors, you see his infatuation with you, and because he’s a hero and mentor and somebody you long to learn from, you’re just hoping — even though all the signs are pointing in the wrong direction — that it’s not true,” Eddy said. “He was so powerful and surrounded by so many people that you knew knew. The only thing you could do about it was to let it happen. The only thing you could do was to mitigate the opportunities for it to get worse.”
OU releases statement
OU released a statement to media Tuesday evening about Eddy’s comments to NonDoc:
The goal of this investigation since the beginning has been to proceed with the highest degrees of professionalism, confidentiality and sincere concern for all parties involved particularly potential victims. This is our duty. While individuals may share their own personal accounting, it is critical that the university proceed deliberately, objectively and with respect for all the individuals involved. The investigation is not complete and comment on specifics at this time would be inappropriate.
Wednesday morning, Burke sent NonDoc a statement.
“OU says this months long inquiry started with an accusation by a former teaching assistant. However, Jess Eddy gave me a statement that President Boren never acted inappropriately,” Burke said. “In fact, he told the lawyers for Jones Day the same thing in an interview months ago. I know that for a fact. However, the university has spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars having Jones Day run down rumors and gossip in an attempt to smear President Boren’s good name and destroy his legacy. He continues to deny any inappropriate behavior with anyone at any time.”
Eddy responded that he told Jones Day the allegations detailed in this story.
“I really don’t want to get into a back-and-forth with Bob,” Eddy said. “All I can say is it was and is an exceedingly difficult time, and I’m just trying to do the right thing now. I have told my story as reported by NonDoc to investigating authorities.”
(Updates: This story was updated at 6:43 p.m. Tuesday, March 26, to provide more accurate information about the date of the OU donor appreciation event at the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History. The story was updated at 11:20 p.m. Tuesday to include OU’s statement in response. It was updated again at 12:00 p.m. Wednesday, March 27, to include Burke’s statement and the response from Eddy.)