Sep. 17—More than a year after Joe Harroz officially took the reins as the University of Oklahoma's 15th president, university and state leaders gave him a charge to lead OU into the future and protect the work of the institution at his formal inauguration Friday.
While the university announced the OU Board of Regents' appointment of Harroz as permanent president at a May 2020 board meeting, no inauguration ceremony followed that gathering during what were still the early months of the pandemic. At that point, Harroz had already been interim president of the university for a year, but a ceremony was delayed for public health reasons.
Though the pandemic continues to produce high new case levels and hospitalizations this fall, the university officially inaugurated Harroz in a formal event Friday, recognizing his responsibilities by bestowing a presidential collar, mace and framed charge on the president.
"Joe, you have the skills, the experience, the mental acumen and energy to serve in this role in a really terrific way," said Michael Cawley, chair of the Board of Regents, shortly before officially installing Harroz as president.
Across his two years in the job, Harroz, on the charge of the Board of Regents and alongside members of his administration and faculty, has implemented a sprawling strategic plan that lays out a path — financially, academically and culturally — for the university's future.
Cawley on Friday further charged Harroz to "maintain the trust of all those who have come before us, to give of yourself and your talent, to preserve and strengthen this great institution and to lead our students, faculty, staff and alumni as one community, united in the pursuit of excellence."
Speakers Friday pointed to the university's motto — the Latin "Civi et Reipublicae," translated to "for the benefit of the citizen and the state" — as another charge for the president to carry forward.
"I don't know that there's ever been a more important time, Mr. President, for your leadership for our state," Oklahoma State Regents for HIgher Education Chair Jeffrey Hickman told Harroz. "The governor talks frequently about our critical workforce needs, and we've seen them magnified — nurses, doctors, engineers, cybersecurity experts, computer scientists. The need is great. Mr. President, you have been called for this purpose by your state."
The ceremony drew not only university and academic leadership, but state officials like Gov. Kevin Stitt, U.S. Sen. James Lankford and U.S. Rep. Stephanie Bice.
Lankford and Stitt spoke of Harroz' responsibility to not only uphold OU's reputation and standing, but to help the university lead the state and nation and shape the future. The senator said the future of energy, law, meteorology, economy and public health in Oklahoma "all depend on what happens" at the university.
"We ask you, as a state: lead with wisdom. Use your influence for good. Set the example that others should follow," Lankford said.
Harroz, in an inaugural address that delved into the purpose of a university and the charge behind OU, said that before moving into the future, it's important to stop and reflect what universities give to the individual, to the state and to society.
"When we get together and we ask the question 'why would we do all of this?' the answer is that these moments are about pausing, just for a moment, and rededicating and recommitting ourselves to the reason behind great universities, the critical nature of who they are and what they do for us," the president said.
With a commitment to protecting the university's work and impact, the collective institution of OU — faculty, staff, students, community and more — can carry the university forward, Harroz said.
"As we're here today, and we think about 'Where do we stand?' it's with unbelievable optimism," Harroz said. "There are so many positive things going on. And yes, we have challenges. The key is that we do not shrink from these challenges, that we understand the 130 years that we received as a gift."
Emma Keith is the editor of The Transcript, where she covers Norman Public Schools and the University of Oklahoma. Reach her at email@example.com or at @emma_ckeith.