Sexual misconduct allegations ended former OU President David Boren’s association with the university he managed for 24 years, but the former U.S. senator and governor is founder and chairman of another education organization with 180 trustees, including OU’s interim president, three other university presidents, the state chancellor for higher education and numerous Oklahoma power brokers.
Boren has been the subject of an ongoing Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation criminal inquiry since March. But over the past seven months, Boren’s Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence has distributed news releases featuring his quotes, added influential board members and briefly announced it was “partnering” with Cameron University.
Based in Lawton, Cameron is governed by the OU Board of Regents, the same body which struck a confidential June agreement with Boren that he resign his professorship and end all affiliation with the University of Oklahoma. Regents said Boren’s decision “concluded” their federally required investigation into multiple allegations of sexual misconduct.
“It’s as complete a separation as you can get,” OU regent Gary Pierson told The Oklahoman at the time. “We cannot erase history, so he will always be a former president of the university. But he won’t have any right, title or interest in the university going forward.”
Boren’s foundation appears to be a different story. Interim OU President Joe Harroz, two of his vice presidents and a recently resigned regent continue to serve as OFE trustees. And in the months following his resignation agreement with OU, Boren’s foundation took three steps to extend its relationship at Cameron:
- This fall, Cameron’s dean of graduate and professional studies, Jennifer Dennis, joined OFE’s board of trustees;
- On Oct. 22, Cameron hosted the “southwest regional meeting” of the Oklahoma School Foundations Network, an OFE program;
- And on Jan. 24, 2020, Cameron was set to host “the first of the Boren Mentoring Initiative’s Oklahoma Mentor Day regional tours,” according to an Aug. 29 Facebook post by the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence. Likewise, OFE sent its trustees a letter in October noting that “our Boren Mentoring Initiative is partnering with Cameron University” for the event.
Monday, OFE staff announced that Oklahoma Mentor Day at Cameron University was in the process of being cancelled.
“Our director of our (Boren) Mentoring Initiative actually resigned this past week to pursue new opportunities,” OFE executive director Emily Stratton said by email Monday. “Mentor Day is an involved activity and we decided it was better for us to simply cancel the program this year as we will not have time to hire a new director until after the first of the year.”
Asked by phone if the cancellation of Mentor Day at Cameron was related to the termination agreement Boren struck with OU, Stratton said it was not.
The next day, she sent NonDoc a subsequent email about the situation.
“There is not, nor has there ever been, a partnership between the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence and Cameron University,” Stratton wrote Tuesday afternoon.
Two hours later, however, Cameron director of media relations Janet Williams emailed NonDoc statements from Cameron President John McArthur describing his university’s relationship with OFE.
“Cameron University has had a longstanding and positive association with the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence,” McArthur said. “Cameron supports any organization, including OFE, that recognizes and rewards Oklahoma’s great teachers and its outstanding students for their academic success. To that extent, Cameron was asked — and agreed — to host a regional Oklahoma Mentor Day event in an effort to encourage participation in the OFE’s mentorship program.”
While Cameron and OFE appear to disagree over what terminology best describes their relationship, the connections have been noticed by others.
“The regents made a big deal about Boren having no further ties with OU. You would think the same rule would extend to the other universities they govern,” said Jess Eddy, an OU graduate who has detailed a series of private encounters where he says Boren touched his butt and kissed his cheek and neck against his wishes.
Eddy stands as the only person publicly accusing Boren of sexual battery, but an OU Title IX document provided to Eddy suggests five other men told investigators from the Jones Day law firm about similar encounters with Boren. Eddy has also relayed to OSBI investigators other stories of Boren’s alleged sexual misconduct told to him by OU faculty and staff during his time at the university.
Jones Day investigators dubbed Eddy “generally credible” as a witness, though Boren attorney Clark Brewster has emphasized Eddy’s admitted initial request of money from Boren to remain quiet and has called Eddy “a guy who has told completely contradictory stories and wants money for the play he’s going to write.”
Wednesday, Brewster said Eddy “is kind of disconnected from reality,” and he praised Boren as someone who “has done probably more than anyone ever in history for this state.”
“He had a guy who was just dedicated to take him out. It wasn’t just (former OU President Jim) Gallogly. It was Gallogly and a number of people who just loathe David,” Brewster said. “If there was really anything to it, we would have seen people coming out of the woodwork and filing lawsuits. But none of that has occurred. None of it. And that’s because it is so fucking skin-deep.”
Eddy: OU regents ‘should have known’ about Cameron activities
To that end, Brewster said he — not his client — suggested the separation agreement between Boren and OU.
“David’s agreement to step away as president emeritus and to step away from the circumstances there doesn’t mean that somewhere down the way there wouldn’t be some continued relationship in some way,” Brewster said. “That’s not been discussed, but the severance had nothing to do with the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence or anything else he’s doing.”
Eddy, on the other hand, called Cameron University agreeing to host events for Boren’s foundation a problem, even if Oklahoma Mentor Day has been cancelled on campus. Eddy said the situation typifies his frustration over how OU handles sexual misconduct cases.
“If they knew about these deals, in my mind this is utterly deceptive,” Eddy said of OU’s regents. “If they didn’t, that’s just another example of their gross negligence and incompetence.”
Traditionally, the OU board has featured at least one member with ties to Cameron, but after the February death of Lawton businessman and attorney Bill Burgess, Gov. Kevin Stitt appointed former OKC publishing executive Gary Pierson to fill his seat. Pierson now lives in Colorado but was chosen as the regents’ next chairman at an unusual Oct. 22 lunch meeting.
That meeting had originally been scheduled for Cameron’s campus, but it was moved to Norman with only a few days notice. Eddy said he questions whether the move was related to Boren’s foundation holding its program meeting at Cameron on the same day.
“It doesn’t bode well for any plausible deniability on their part that they abruptly relocated the Cameron meeting,” Eddy said. “They should have known.”
Asked about the Oct. 22 meeting moving from Cameron to Norman, OU interim Vice President of Marketing and Communications Mackenzie Dilbeck provided a statement from the Board of Regents.
“The relocation of the Oct. 22 Board of Regents meeting was in no way connected to the OFE meeting held at Cameron the same day,” the statement said.
McArthur, Cameron’s president, also said his university’s recent interactions with OFE did not involve Boren.
“Cameron University has had no direct contact with him regarding Oklahoma Mentor Day, nor did he visit our campus when the Oklahoma School Foundation Network met here on Oct. 22, 2019,” McArthur said.
Foundation for Excellence: Joe Harroz on board, Lincoln Riley on website
Among the four university presidents serving as trustees of Boren’s foundation, interim OU President Joe Harroz’s name stands out to Eddy. So do OU Vice President and General Counsel Anil Gollahalli and new OU Vice President for Executive Affairs Sean Burrage.
Burrage joined the board of trustees in 2016, and Gollahalli served as the foundation’s president the same year. A former recipient of OFE’s academic all-state awards, Gollahalli joined the board in 2007 and serves on its leadership committee, for which Boren is chairman. On Monday, OFE director Stratton confirmed Harroz “is one of our trustees.”
“Being a senior official at OU while serving on a board chaired by Boren is problematic, to say the least,” Eddy said.
Even OU football coach Lincoln Riley is tied to Boren’s namesake program at the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence: the David and Molly Boren Mentoring Initiative. Riley stands in the center of two photos on OFE’s website, posing with youth inside OU football facilities.
“[Regents] said Boren would have ‘no ties,’ (to OU), but he’s got Lincoln Riley on a banner,” Eddy said. “That’s a damn big tie.”
Dilbeck and Kesha Keith, OU’s media relations director, were asked multiple times whether the Boren Mentoring Initiative’s promotional use of Lincoln Riley’s image in an OU athletic facility is permissible under the Board of Regents’ separation agreement with Boren.
The statement provided — attributed to the entire board — did not address the question:
While the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence was founded more than 30 years ago by former OU President David Boren and he still serves as chair, the organization, which operates as an independent charitable group governed by 180 trustees from across the state, remains focused on elevating Oklahoma public high school students who excel academically — a goal we enthusiastically applaud. To that end, we also commend the members of the OU, Cameron and Rogers State communities for their involvement over the years with philanthropic efforts geared toward supporting academic advancement such as the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence.
Listed online, OU’s on-campus film and photography guidelines state that any “campus image” is owned by the Board of Regents. The term “campus image” is defined as “a still or moving image of OU property that can be identified by the public as OU property. Images can include, but are not limited to, architecture, landmarks, signage or the presence of prominent individuals.”
In the two Oklahoma Foundation of Excellence photos featuring Lincoln Riley — OU’s highest-paid and most nationally prominent figure — the football coach is wearing official OU shirts and is flanked by youth also wearing OU attire. One photo was taken on Owen Field inside the Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, and the other was taken inside an OU Athletic Department facility with OU football players in the background.
OU’s licensing guidelines specify that “identification of OU as the location” in externally used photos must be “approved in advance by the director of licensing.” The guidelines also specify that, if OU is identified, such photos “cannot be used in connection with characters who engage in any non-consensual sexual activity; any felony crime; use of illegal drugs and/or alcohol abuse.”
Riley and OSU football coach Mike Gundy “spearheaded” the 2017-2018 Oklahoma Coaches Mentoring Challenge in collaboration with the Boren Mentoring Initiative, according to a press release.
The photos featuring Riley were removed from OFE’s website by mid-day Thursday after this article published.
OU ‘a strong supporter of the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence’
Asked about their trustee positions on Boren’s foundation board, top OU administrators Harroz, Gollahalli and Burrage deferred to a statement provided by Keith, purportedly on behalf of the university as a whole:
The University of Oklahoma is a strong supporter of the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence and its mission to recognize and encourage academic excellence in Oklahoma’s public schools. The Foundation’s academic mission is more vital than ever as Oklahoma strives to produce more college graduates with degrees to help advance our state’s economy, filling key positions in areas such as aerospace, healthcare, software development, information technology, and engineering.
Made aware of OU’s statements, Eddy said university leaders appear to be missing the point.
“While the foundation’s mission is good and needed in this state, that is not the question at hand. The question is whether David Boren — in light of the allegations made and the ongoing criminal investigation — has any business running that organization,” Eddy said. “While it may not be within the power of OU to resolve that, any institution or any person under the governance of the Board of Regents should not be involved with OFE. To continue to do so in my mind makes them complicit in shielding David Boren from appropriate consequences.”
Through the process of telling his story to law enforcement, lawyers and the public, Eddy has been supported by victims advocate Sara Bana. She said OU and Cameron’s ongoing connections to Boren’s private foundation are “disturbing” and offer his reputation protection during the OSBI investigation.
“Here he is with access and opportunities to prey on more young people,” Bana said. “Why are we continuing to glorify this man? Why is his name still on streets and buildings at the University of Oklahoma? Why is it so hard for this institution as a whole to acknowledge that this is a man who has serious character flaws and moral flaws?”
Brewster, on the other hand, said Wednesday that Boren and his wife, Molly, have amassed decades of public service and have helped countless young people access quality education.
“What they’re going through is a torturous time that is just absolutely unjustified,” Brewster said. “There has been nobody that has come forward who has said David has done anything in connection with students or kids or anything like that.”
Brewster represents both Boren and former OU Vice President of University Development Tripp Hall, who is also being investigated for alleged sexual misconduct.
While he is not currently listed as a trustee of the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence, Hall served on OFE’s board previously, according to his bio in a July 15 press release announcing new employment at Foundation Management, Inc.
Eddy has alleged that Hall touched him inappropriately in November 2010, and current OU employee Levi Hilliard has alleged a series of unwanted physical advances before Hall was terminated by the university. An OSBI search warrant application from September indicates that a third man has made allegations as well, leading to a rape investigation by Oklahoma’s top law enforcement agency.
“One of my bigger concerns is that these campuses have become preying grounds for predators like Mr. Boren, like Tripp Hall and even other faculty members,” said Bana, the victims advocate.
OFE ‘proud’ of trustees from 10 different colleges, universities
For her part, OFE director Stratton wants Oklahomans to know how many people Boren’s organization has helped over the years through donations and relationships.
“The Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence immensely values the relationships it enjoys with the higher education community throughout the state. The pursuit of academic excellence in public schools is our passion and purpose,” Stratton wrote in her Tuesday email. “The University of Oklahoma has been a longtime supporter of our mission, and we are appreciative of its continued support. As our foundation has evolved, several OU leaders have given their time to serve as trustees of our foundation, helping to advance our mission. In fact, we are proud that our board includes trustees from 10 different colleges and universities from across the state.”
The other public college presidents serving as Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence trustees are Southwestern Oklahoma State University President Randy Beutler, OSU Center for Health Sciences President Dr. Kayse Shrum and Seminole State College President Lana Reynolds, who was added to the board in October. Oklahoma Chancellor for Higher Education Glenn Johnson is a trustee, as well.
Former OU regent Renzi Stone is also listed as a trustee of the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence. Stone resigned his regent seat after the Oct. 22 meeting where his colleagues selected Pierson to be the board’s next chairman.
Stone sent NonDoc a statement about his appearance on OFE’s trustee list shortly after the publication of this article.
“Although I made a donation to the OFE a number of years ago and remember attending a meeting, I had no idea I was a board member,” Stone said. “I do not believe I’ve been in touch with the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence since I became an OU regent, nor have I ever discussed it with other OU regents or then-President Boren. When I read this article, I sent Emily Stratton an email expressing my surprise at being a named board member and asked to be removed.”
In her email Tuesday, Stratton noted that the Boren Mentoring Initiative’s Oklahoma Mentor Day was previously held at OU, the University of Central Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University.
Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence history
Founded in 1985, the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence operates a multitude of award programs for students, teachers and school district foundations. It has distributed more than $4.8 million, an average of about $144,000 for the past 34 years. Boren launched the foundation as a U.S. senator, writing in 2005 that “our goal was to build a statewide, grassroots network of support for excellence in public education.”
OFE lists five programs on its website:
- Academic Awards Program
- Boren Mentoring Initiative
- Colonial American History Programs
- Oklahoma School Foundations Network
- Professional Development Grants for Teachers
Stratton said each has been successful in supporting students, educators and school districts. Boren has emphasized the same in press releases this year.
“We know that education is the best investment our society can make for the future,” Boren said in an October release seeking nominations for his foundation’s Academic All-State awards. “If we make all of the right policy decisions in every other area but fail to adequately educate the next generation, we will imperil the future of our society. By working together to give outstanding students and educators the recognition they deserve, we send a strong message to our state and to the nation that Oklahomans value academic excellence.”
While the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence added those trustees this year, House Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka) resigned his position as a trustee within the past year, according to McCall senior advisor John Estus.
“He made a small, solicited donation to this group before his election to the Legislature, then was put on the very large board of trustees, as appears to be the case with all donors,” Estus said. “He never attended a meeting and left the trustee board due to his lack of involvement beyond that single donation years ago.”
McCall was first elected to the House in 2012.
“I was not involved beyond the solicited personal donation I made to a group that was supporting public education,” McCall said in a statement.
(Update: This article was updated at 7:27 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 14, to include a statement from Renzi Stone. It was updated again at 12:36 p.m. to note the photos of Lincoln Riley were removed from OFE’s website.)