OSU President Burns Hargis
Burns Hargis announced his plans to retire as Oklahoma State University president on July 1, 2021 during the Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, Oklahoma A&M Board of Regents meeting. (Kayla Dunn)

Rumors of Oklahoma State University President Burns Hargis retiring have been flitting between classrooms and boardrooms for months, but Hargis made things official at today’s Oklahoma A&M Board of Regents meeting by announcing his retirement after nearly 13 years of service.

Hargis, 74, led OSU out of a recession and into a golden era of rampant progress. Spearheading the fundraising campaign “Branding Success,” Hargis exceeded expectations and raised $1.2 billion for students, faculty and facilities. Since then, his tenure has raised a total of $2.1 billion for OSU, according to Hargis. The Spears School of Business, the McKnight Center for the Performing Arts, the ENDEAVOR Laboratory and the Greenwood Tennis Center are among additions to OSU’s campus.

Regents Chairman Rick Davis took time to speak about Hargis’ “unbelievably historic fundraising” and his impact on campus.

“(Your tenure) has really been remarkable,” Davis said. “Your greatest achievement in my eyes — and probably the one that has the most long-lasting effect on our Cowboy nation — is the fact that you have changed how we look at ourselves. (…) Above all else, you probably have changed our expectations for ourselves. You’ve put us on a new trajectory.”

In addition to unparalleled fundraising and growth, Hargis and his wife, Ann, implemented programs to improve student health. Together, they banned all tobacco products on campus, pushed for healthier dining options, renovated the 250,000-square-foot Colvin Recreational Center and coined the phrase “America’s Healthiest Campus.”

“We’ve been able to build facilities that allow people to reach their full potential,” Hargis said. “All of that together has made OSU a very different place.”

Hargis went on to thank donors, such as the late icon T. Boone Pickens, whose generosity has allowed for the beautification of campus and advancements of OSU students. Through such generosity, OSU has the opportunity to host the New York Philharmonic in Stillwater.

“We’ve now seen three cohorts of students do all four years here,” Hargis said. “We’re watching them come in bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and full of enthusiasm… and then to watch them mature during the time they’re here is just a real blessing.”

As one of Hargis’ final projects at OSU, he demolished and replanned The Willham House, OSU’s presidential palace. Although he and Ann will never live in it, the house should add to the allure and attraction of the position Hargis is now vacating.

In addition to The William house, Hargis hopes to finish the visual arts center, which would complete OSU’s art district. The 8,000-square-foot visual arts center would serve as a theater, exhibition space and haven to create art.

In a press conference following the Oklahoma A&M Board of Regents meeting, Hargis commented on the “special sauce” of Oklahoma State. He praised the youthful excitement of OSU students and the unique blend of rural and urban minds collaborating in Stillwater.

“I don’t how that works, but if I did I’d bottle it,” Hargis said with a laugh.

Burns and The First Cowgirl’s retirement

Burns Hargis plans to finish the 2020-2021 school year and will officially retire on July 1, 2021. He and Ann Hargis plan to move to Oklahoma City at that time.

“I’m really celebrating our graduation here, today,” Ann Hargis said to a standing ovation in The McKnight Center Performance Hall.

When asked what he plans to do during retirement, Hargis recalled a conversation between him and Pickens, who said that if retirement meant you could do what you liked, then Pickens had been retired his whole life. Hargis said that’s his view on retirement.

“We weren’t anxious to leave,” Hargis said. “We really were having fun and think things were going well. (…) But time marches on.”

Ann stood at the back of the room, teary-eyed, as her husband attempted to wrap up the last 13 years.

“This has just been the time of our lives,” he said. “Ann and I have absolutely loved it. It exceeded all of our expectations.”

OSU looking forward

Hargis has accomplished significant milestones as president, but he took time to comment on some future priorities he believes the next president should have. The A&M Board of Regents will ultimately select his successor.

“This isn’t a fully baked place yet,” Hargis said. “There’s always something to do, probably things I would have never dreamed.”

Hargis went on to say that research should be a top priority for the next president. As a land-grant university, OSU needs to continue updating labs, such as the physical science labs, and continue to integrate human, animal and plant health.

To students, Hargis had one thing to say.

“I just want the students to know that we’re going to provide them all the support we possibly can,” Hargis said. “I’d like our graduates to be ethical leaders that make a lasting and permanent difference for good in their communities.”