A tenured art and design professor at Oklahoma Christian University who was fired Monday, March 7, says he was dismissed because a guest speaker who is gay delivered a class presentation that the private university deemed inappropriate.
Michael O’Keefe’s attorney, Kevin Jacobs, said in a statement that the university had fired O’Keefe “allegedly for his ‘gross misconduct, conduct contrary to the mission and values of Oklahoma Christian University and disregard of the policies and values of the university.'”
According to Jacobs’ statement, “it is our belief Mr. O’Keefe was terminated for having a guest speaker for his senior level class, ‘The Business of Branding Yourself.’ One of the topics addressed was the issue of overcoming obstacles and developing resilience and character.”
The speaker, an alumnus of the university and an adjunct professor there for almost 20 years, is gay.
“While this issue is polarizing within the religious community, it is certainly a reality within our world and nothing to shy away from discussing within the context of an academic institution, especially a one bold enough to call itself a Christian one,” the statement says. “Letting students expect a world where you may be different is the message Mr. O’Keefe wanted his students to hear. That’s the message this speaker delivered, not an advocacy of gay rights. Unfortunately, that’s not permitted at Oklahoma Christian University today.”
The university has not confirmed the events surrounding O’Keefe’s firing, but OC chief legal officer Stephen Eck provided a statement to NonDoc.
“The decision to end employment was made after a thorough review process,” Eck said. “The university will always put first the wellbeing of our students in every decision we make.”
‘This is a guy that should retire with glory’
Much of the currently available information about the incident has been spread via social media, and Jacobs said he believes that information to be generally accurate.
“I wish I could say what I’ve seen on social media was false, but I think the fact pattern seems to be pretty simple here,” Jacobs said. “It’s not hard to wrap your head around what happened.”
On Saturday morning, O’Keefe’s wife, Lori Osley, posted on Facebook, saying the guest speaker had been invited to “visit with the students about how he overcame a personal challenge.
“He was one of several speakers brought in,” Osley wrote. “However, he was gay. Again, he only spoke about his personal journey not to promote any type of lifestyle.”
Osley added in a comment below the post that her husband is “not allowed to step foot on campus or in the gym again.”
Julia Layne, a graduate of OC’s graphic design department, said in a lengthy Twitter thread that she had spoken to O’Keefe the day after his firing.
According to Layne, O’Keefe told her that the guest speaker spoke about his “personal journey as a Christian” and used “two explicit words” during the presentation, after warning students that he would be using explicit language because it was “important to context of the story.”
However, Layne said one or more students apparently complained about the content of the presentation, triggering the investigation that allegedly led to O’Keefe’s firing.
A former student of O’Keefe, Matt Goad — who said he was “kicked out” of OC in 1990 for having long hair — said that O’Keefe explained the situation to him “exactly” as Layne detailed in her Twitter thread, before adding that this situation is “par for the course” at Oklahoma Christian University.
“This is a guy that should retire with glory,” Goad said.
O’Keefe taught at the university for 41 years, beginning his tenure in 1981.