Before this week, David Boren didn’t need to add to his resume. It was impressive enough already.
The University of Oklahoma president was also a former governor, former U.S. senator and Rhodes scholar.
Boren has become the face of the school’s stand against racism after a highly visible and passionate condemnation of a video that appears to show Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity members chanting a racial epitaph.
It started with a bullhorn at a campus rally.
“I have a message for those who have misused their freedom of speech in this way. My message to them is: You’re disgraceful. You have violated every principle that this university stands for.”
It continued with a press conference, saying fraternity members had until midnight Tuesday to get out of their house.
“The house will be closed, and as far as I’m concerned, they won’t be back,” Boren said, adding that the university is exploring what actions it can take against individual fraternity members.
And it extended to network television.
“Sooners are not racists. They’re not bigots,” Boren told CNN in one of his many public reprimands. “They are people who respect each other and care about each other.”
Boren spent nearly 30 years in elected office before becoming the 13th president of the University of Oklahoma in 1994.
He was a U.S. senator from 1979 to 1994. Before that, he was the governor from 1974 through 1978.
Boren is the first person in Oklahoma history to have served all three positions, according to his university biography.
Boren graduated from Yale University in 1963.
He was selected as a Rhodes scholar and earned a master’s degree in politics, philosophy and economics from Oxford University, England, in 1965
Boren received his law degree from the University of Oklahoma in 1968.
Where it goes from here
Zero tolerance is the only answer to racism, Boren said. Not just for the school, but the nation.
“It’s not just the Greek system, it’s not just colleges and universities. It’s Ferguson, Missouri. All sorts of elements of our society are involved,” he said.
For now, Boren said the school is looking into punishing the individuals involved, especially any of those who led the chants.
“We’re trying to determine if we have enough evidence and if we can meet the federal standards to prevail in court, and, if so, we’ll take action,” Boren said.
“This is not a place that wants racists or bigots on our campus or will tolerate it so I think you have to send a very strong signal.”
In the meantime, Boren said he will work with students who are calling for a change, including Unheard, a campus organization that formed in response to the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson.
Unheard, along with the university newspaper, anonymously received the video showing the fraternity chant and made it public
Boren started meeting with the group in January, well ahead of the SAE video. Both sides described the sessions as “constructive,” the Washington Post reported Monday.
“They are very constructive. They have very good ideas and we’re going to make it better. We’re determined to make it better,” Boren told CNN.
By Ed Payne