SULPHUR — When it comes to the sexual misconduct investigations of former OU President David Boren, current President Joe Harroz says he “was around for the relevant time periods.”
Speaking Tuesday after an OU Board of Regents meeting at the Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center, Harroz revealed he was interviewed by the Jones Day law firm hired by regents and his predecessor, Jim Gallogly, to investigate allegations against Boren.
“That was a comprehensive investigation,” Harroz said. “I think they — from what I understand — reached out to everyone that was here during the relevant time periods. I was here during the relevant time periods, and I don’t want to get into details about that.”
If anybody knows details from the past three decades of David Boren’s public life, Harroz would fit the bill. He interned with Boren, and in 1992 he became Boren’s U.S. Senate legislative director at age 25. He served as Boren’s legal counsel before joining an Oklahoma City law firm in 1993. The next year, the two men reunited when Boren was named OU’s 13th president. Harroz worked as OU’s vice president of executive affairs and then legal counsel, moved to the private sector in 2008 and returned in 2010 as dean of the OU College of Law.
Asked Tuesday if, during his two decades working for the former governor, he ever knew of Boren engaging in relationships with male staff members, Harroz said he had given his word to the OU Board of Regents that he would “stay out of this matter until it’s completed.”
“There is still an aspect of this that is continuing with the OSBI component, so I don’t want to go into details,” Harroz said. “But the answer is, ‘No.’”
Harroz declined to say whether he had spoken with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and said he knows little about its criminal investigation of Boren.
Asked if he had ever previously heard sexual misconduct discussions about Boren — such as accusations that he was the unnamed federal legislator in Michael Signorile’s 1993 book Queer in America: Sex, the Media and the Closets of Power — Harroz said he did not feel comfortable discussing rumors or speculation.
“I want to make sure I answered the question you gave me directly,” Harroz said. “I think the really responsible response is (to), ‘Did you know?’ The question you asked me. I think getting into articles that I have or haven’t read, I think that’s probably straying further away than what my charge is.”
Harroz: Title IX ‘review was already in progress’
With five weeks on the job as OU’s interim top administrator, Harroz’s charge is to captain his ship forward, focus on the university’s mission and rebuild community trust that may have eroded for any number of reasons. Tuesday, he presented a budget that holds tuition level for students while providing pay increases for faculty and staff.
“If an education is inaccessible, if it’s only available based on your economic circumstance, then I don’t know how you can be a great university,” Harroz said before joining regents for dinner Tuesday evening. “Our goal is not just to have a sound budget, our goal is to drive that mission we have that is sacred.”
Harroz said another of his goals is to ensure a respected, trusted and “state of the art” Institutional Equity Office, the university department designated to investigate and address allegations of gender discrimination and sexual misconduct as required under the federal Title IX education statute.
“Projecting forward, I want to make sure there is an absolute review of where we are and — in conjunction with the board — make sure that (we make) any changes that need to be made,” Harroz said. “That review was already in progress, and I think we are going to have some results from that in the future.”
Harroz’s comments came 24 hours after a story published on InsideHigherEd.com featured analysis from national higher education experts who said they believe any prudent university should review its policies and procedures after something like the Boren inquiry.
Susan Resneck Pierce, a former college president who advises university boards and presidents, told the publication that OU leaders should examine “internal systems” as a result of the situation:
Regardless of its legal responsibilities or lack of such responsibilities, I think that the OU Board has an ethical obligation to consider the Jones Day report and at the very least to determine if any of the University’s internal systems (past and present) prevent legitimate investigations and also to decide what the University needs to do going forward to protect all members of the campus community from acts of sexual assault or harassment.
Boren announced his resignation from the university June 12, saying he was facing a “personal attack so vicious and relentless that it defied my comprehension.” He said he felt it was “best for the university and all concerned for me to suggest a resolution to end this divisive and unfair controversy.” He and his attorneys have repeatedly denied wrongdoing.
Eddy: Harroz ‘acknowledged me, thanked me for coming and was kind’
Taking care to say he was not talking about the Boren matter, Harroz discussed his past experiences with Title IX investigations into alleged sexual misconduct.
“In every instance when a student has brought it to the attention of the law school either through a professor or any of the mandatory reporters (…) those were always reported, and the feeling to my knowledge was that Title IX did a responsible and good job with it,” Harroz said. “So my experience with Title IX that I have directly had has been responsible.”
He said the biggest challenges in administering a Title IX process are that many people do not choose to file an official report about their experiences and that sometimes mandatory reporters — such as university faculty and staff — wish they could keep names out of their reports.
“There’s always a feeling whenever it’s a professor-student relationship or a key staff person relationship, there’s this feeling of, ‘I’m being told in confidence,’ and it would be a betrayal of this trust if I communicated it to the Title IX Office,” Harroz said. “So the only resistance that I’ve ever heard is people coming to me that are mandatory reporters that have said, ‘Title IX is telling me I have to do this,’ or, ‘I have to give a name.’ And I’ve explained to them what the obligation is. Often times I can tell it doesn’t feel right to the individual giving the report. But Title IX has insisted all the way to saying, ‘You do not have the choice of not telling me the names of the individuals that are engaged in this.'”
A similar situation occurred with the only public accuser of David Boren, a former teaching assistant and full-time employee named Jess Eddy. While NonDoc confirmed he has told his allegations of sexual touching by Boren and former OU Vice President Tripp Hall to friends for years, they were first reported to the Title IX Office in November 2018 by, Eddy believes, one of his former bosses at OU.
“My main concern with the Title IX Office has been that Title IX puts the interests of the university over the interests of the victims by mitigating liability for the university,” Eddy said Wednesday morning.
At an April 26 regents meeting, Eddy and another former student who has accused Hall of sexual battery called for regents to review OU’s Title IX Office. In 2018, the office was the subject of substantial campus discussion, and a former OU faculty member publicly criticized the office in an April commentary for the Dallas Morning News.
Eddy said Wednesday that he was pleased to learn of Harroz’s remarks.
“I appreciate that a review has been implemented,” Eddy said. “I think it’s critical. A student asked me recently where she should go if she was ever assaulted, and I couldn’t tell her in all candor that the university had a safe space for her to go if it happened.”
Eddy attended Tuesday’s regents meeting, and he and Harroz spoke twice, once before the meeting and once after.
“In that meeting yesterday, Joe acknowledged me, thanked me for coming and was kind,” Eddy said Wednesday morning. “That was the first senior OU official to do that in all of these months of me attending these meetings — to truly acknowledge my presence and treat me with kindness. Regardless of anything else, he has my gratitude and appreciation for that.”
Eddy said he told Harroz that his “issues” with how the Boren investigation has been handled “are with the regents and not him personally.”
“I want the best for the university, and I wish him the best of luck in that spirit,” Eddy said. “It’s hard for me to believe that Joe didn’t know things, considering his closeness and history with David Boren. But the fact is that I don’t have any facts about Joe, and it’s not my place to pass judgment on him as an individual.”
Asked his message to OU community members if they ever experience sexual misconduct in the future, Harroz emphasized that the Title IX process must be trusted.
“My message is, ‘Absolutely report it.’ Victims often don’t realize they are really a victim until later. They feel some shame in it. They feel like they are at fault, and the reality is that they are not,” Harroz said. “The numbers of those individuals that are victims who do not take action are staggeringly high. But there’s a system in place and a process, and we need them to engage it, and there will be result from it.”
Harroz ended his remarks on the Title IX process with three words: “This is important.”
The OU Board of Regents is scheduled to meet again this morning at 11 a.m. in Sulphur.