Joseph Harroz Jr.

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In May, the University of Oklahoma appointed Joseph Harroz Jr., dean of the OU College of Law, as interim president for at least 15 months. Harroz’s term comes after the resignation of Jim Gallogly, who served less than a year following the long tenure of David Boren. Grandson of a Lebanese immigrant, Harroz grew up in Oklahoma City and graduated from Putnam City North High School. Since 1994, Harroz, who earned a bachelor’s degree in economics at OU, has also been the university’s general counsel and vice president of executive affairs as well as a law school professor. We caught up with Harroz and got his thoughts on …

… challenges in the past five months.

We are laser-focused on addressing matters of diversity and inclusivity on our campuses. If we don’t get this right, frankly, nothing else matters. It is a top priority for us, and we are involving all of our constituencies at every level to … craft strategies that … articulate our values. Our emphasis on diversity and inclusivity is far more than a tepid reference or a checking off of buzzwords; we strongly believe that these issues strike at the heart of who we are as an OU family. Creating a truly inclusive OU community is essential for the success of every student during their time at OU and beyond.

… his goals as interim president.

OU has had more than its fair share of issues the past 18 months. It’s my goal to act as a stabilizing presence, while also setting in motion a much-needed strategic framework around our top priorities. We cannot lose footing … in aggressively advancing our research work and creative activities. Our work in research is paramount; it amplifies our faculty’s scholarship, while also serving as an engine of economic growth for Oklahoma. We are also intent on remaining financially disciplined, to better position ourselves to seize … opportunities.

… his family’s influence.

It’s easy for me to be excited about OU’s mission – I’m a direct beneficiary of it, and not just as a student, faculty member or dean, but as a son. My father was a first-generation college student at OU – completing his undergrad here, then earning his medical degree at OU Medicine. He is one of nine children and was the only one of his siblings to attend college. Both of my parents [provided] every opportunity I’ve had to date, and for our family, that story started at OU. My upbringing instilled in me a desire to work hard at everything I do. My dad was the true model of that for me, from his undergrad years through his decades of practicing medicine. Committing oneself to work diligently at something one loves remains one of the greatest lessons and gifts my dad gave me.

… how his varied experiences help now.

Serving in a number of roles and in a variety of offices throughout OU has given me distinct insight into the needs of the university. The sum of my experiences at OU, from my undergrad days to nearly a decade as dean of the law school, can be distilled into clear lessons that I apply each day as president. My time as vice president equipped me with an invaluable understanding of university-wide management. Each day in my general counsel role I learned and navigated the legal complexities of higher education. As dean, I had time to hone my skills in academic leadership and alumni relations. And as a professor, I quickly appreciated the value of a shared-governance model and became attuned to the student experience. I’ve long been a champion of higher education, and there’s no easier mission to advocate for than OU’s. 

… teaching law students.

I still have the opportunity to teach an employment law seminar. It’s invigorating … to stay personally connected with the needs of our students in the classroom.

… OU’s impact on him.

This place truly changed my life. I began college like any other freshman, full of self-doubt and anxiety. Yet it was here, at OU, that I found a new family. My community of professors, classmates and friends helped me write the beginning of my story. I found true support and camaraderie here. Those truths are the same today as they were my freshman year. As president, I’m grateful for the community of people who have rallied around me and shown immense confidence and support as I have begun to navigate this important job.

… pleasant surprises.

I continue to be amazed by the power and spirit of our OU family. We have an incredible community … committed to one another and our mission, and that’s been ever-present … as we’ve welcomed our largest freshman class to date. For me, it’s a dream come true to lead and serve the university that changed my life. I feel incredibly honored and grateful to step into a role that … calls for me to serve every part of OU – our talented students, world-class faculty, outstanding staff, dedicated alumni and generous donors.