Time to Focus Attention on Building Great University

By Nichols, Max | THE JOURNAL RECORD, June 21, 1989 | Go to article overview

Time to Focus Attention on Building Great University


Nichols, Max, THE JOURNAL RECORD


Now that Barry Switzer has removed himself as an issue by resigning, we have a major opportunity to establish a whole new set of priorities for the University of Oklahoma.

We can get on with the university's primary mission - educational excellence for an economy of the future.

We can concentrate on things like recruiting great minds to build a strong nationally significant program for the new OU Energy Center, developing doctorate programs, increasing our funding for research, developing data base libraries and establishing chairs to attract outstanding faculty.

It's not that I am a critic of Barry Switzer.

I have not been in the past, and I am not now. As OU football coach, he met the demands of an earlier era and did what he was hired to do - win football games. While the football program has had major problems in recent months, Switzer's record of leadership over 16 years was too great to be dismissed.

He helped hundreds of young men for every one that made the headlines as a problem. His policy of giving players a second chance worked far more than it failed. When he said last February that he wanted to lead the program out of its problems, I favored giving him that chance.

Now that Switzer has taken himself out of the picture for "what's best for the program'' and the people surrounding him, he is proving that he believes what we should have realized years ago - that the university and its mission are greater than he or football or any one of us. He has proven his metal.

While we wish Gary Gibbs well as the new football coach, it's time we focus our attention on the far more important task of building a great university. With Switzer and football no longer a burning issue, we can concentrate on producing business, professional, government and civic leaders for the future.

The business of football can be part of that, but it no longer should be the focal point.

When the decision was made back in the 1940s to build a great OU football team to improve the self image of Oklahomans, that was an important issue. We were still known as "Okies,'' and that was a derogatory term that came out of the Great Depression and the flight of poor Okies to California. We needed something that would symbolize greatness in Oklahoma.

Those days have long since passed.

The great demand now is to build leadership and an economy for competition with the whole world in the information age. We need higher education that will provide the excellence for the development of leadership and a diversified economy - that will attract companies to build here instead of in Texas or elsewhere.

The Energy Center and the OU School of Journalism and Mass Communications are dramatic cases to be considered, though there certainly are numerous others.

The oil and gas industry has dominated Oklahoma's economy for more than half a century. OU responded in past decades, developing a program that produced more than half the petroleum engineers in the world and the first petroleum land management program. Both are still highly respected.

However, there are Oklahoma petroleum leaders who are now challenging OU to think beyond that - to develop a graduate management program that would work with the Energy Center to develop leaders who understand the broad spectrum of energy.

Through research and a broad curriculum, students would come out of OU with an understanding of how oil, gas, coal, nuclear energy, electricity and solar energy all must be blended in the market of the future. …

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