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The legacy and culture of OU President David Boren

Posted at 6:31 PM, Jun 28, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-29 20:21:03-04

David Boren is the most influential and consequential Oklahoman of the past half-century.

The role he's most proud of, and the one he had prepared himself for since he was a young man, is the presidency of the University of Oklahoma.

Before he retires, President Boren spent an afternoon with anchor Scott Thompson to talk about the legacy he hopes to leave behind at the state's flagship university.

Though there's laughter and goodwill wherever he goes now, and if it's possible, even more, selfies from adoring students, the ones who've nicknamed him D-Bo, there's a sense of the unknown, too, on the Norman campus.

A sense of an era ending, a golden era, the greatest era in the history of the state's flagship university.

The Boren era.

David Boren was relaxed and happy after a morning in the sunshine.

At midnight Saturday, the pleasure, and the burden, of overseeing 32,000 students on three campuses, 14,000 employees, and a $2 billion budget will no longer be his.

There were plenty of headaches, sure, but this was his dream job.

"Well, it's been a wonderful experience, it's the time to really celebrate our time here. It's been the most rewarding chapter certainly in my life," David Boren said.

It's a life that plays out on the walls of his outer office.

Yale undergraduate, Rhodes Scholar, state legislator, the youngest governor in Oklahoma history, United States Senator, longest-serving Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, never lost an election, counsel to presidents and prime ministers.

It's a life's story that wraps the room.

One that became even richer when the OU regents called 23 years ago and asked Boren to come home and resuscitate a university that had stalled.

"People sad 'What's wrong with Boren, why would you give up a position of power to come to a place that doesn't have much power?'" Boren said. "And I said that's a confusion, public service is not about power, public service is about service."

In the Boren years, the crumbling Norman campus was re-built, and in Tulsa came the Schusterman Campus, the Tisdale Health Clinic and the school of community medicine.

And most importantly, Boren turned his attention to re-focusing on OU's academic excellence.

He quadrupled private scholarships, boosted enrollment standards and made Oklahoma a national magnet for national merit scholars, enrolling more than any university in the nation.

"To have been the only public university, just think about that, the only public university in American history to ever have more national merit scholars enrolled than any private institution in this country, that's just remarkable.

He'll keep a small office at OU, and continue teaching his popular class in government.

But after 51 years in public life, Boren's ready to step out of the spotlight and lead what he calls a more normal life.

Remembering what he wrote in his diary as a 22-year old in Oxford, England, that he hoped to become a  US Senator from Oklahoma and president of its flagship university.

"The most rewarding thing you can do is invest your life in the next generation in a place that you love, and nothing means more than that," Boren said.

And because Boren's dreams came true, OU, and the state whose name it carries became a better place.

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