NEW ORLEANS — Bob Stoops spoke. Joe Mixon spoke. But University of Oklahoma president David Boren has been largely silent about the recent release of the Joe Mixon surveillance video — until now.
Boren answered 15 minutes of questions from a handful of reporters on the field minutes after OU’s 35-19 Sugar Bowl victory over Auburn on Monday night in the Superdome.
Fox 23’s Nathan Thompson stopped Boren at first. A few minutes later, I joined Thompson. Soon, more than a half-dozen reporters were in the end zone asking Boren questions about OU’s decision to allow Mixon to stay on the team after he, Stoops and athletic director Joe Castiglione watched video of Mixon punching Amelia Molitor in the face and knocking her to the floor of a Norman restaurant on July 25, 2014.
Boren repeatedly referred to the 1938 film “Boys Town” and its protagonist, Father Flanagan. He also recommended the Pope’s new book. At one point, Boren became animated and said, “If they want to get someone else to be university president that’s in the destruction business, get ‘em. I’m in the education business.”
I asked Boren about his immediate punishment to disband the school’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity and expel students who were caught on video signing racial songs on a private bus, and how it fit with his decision to grant Mixon, a prized football recruit, a second chance.
“That (the SAE video) was something that was just an open-and-shut case,” Boren said. “… We live in a country where you simply cannot put up with that kind of bias, that kind of racial division in our society. The situation here had to do with one young person that had an absolutely clean record of every kind before this.”
I also asked Boren whether he was disappointed in Mixon’s incident with a parking attendant in November, during which Mixon tore up a parking ticket, threw it at the attendant and, according to the official report, drove his car at her in a threatening manner.
“Well, I was disappointed with that,” Boren said. “ … I insisted that he not play the next game at the time. So he learned from it. But he’s still taking counseling, he’s still trying to make himself into a better man. He’s learned from it.”
Here is the full Q&A with Boren during my nearly 14 minutes with him, and you can listen to the interview here (click the play button below):
A: “I don’t know what’s changed. I do hope that something will never change, and that is when young people who have a spotless record, and then make one very serious mistake — and you can’t underestimate the importance of that mistake, and you have punishment for that mistake, but you also don’t throw people away. You give them another chance when they’re 18 years old. You ask them to live by the rules, you ask them to do community service and all the other things. I hope we haven’t seen the days of Father Flanagan behind us. I just hope we still have a country and a system that will give young people a chance to learn from their mistakes and move on from their lives.”
Q: Do you still stand by the decision you made two years ago?
A: “I think it was the right decision and I hope it’s the kind of decision that will be made in the future by educational institutions. There’s no excuse for violence against women. And a severe punishment was handed down. But there’s also no reason to destroy the lives of young people when they make a—even a serious mistake—at age 18. What you want to try to do is set those people in the right course and help them live productive lives in the future. And I think that’s always the right thing to do. I don’t think that’s something that should be decided by instant opinion. You know, opinion changes. At the time, we were ‘far too rough,’ and other people tried to second-guess us. But I hope what won’t be second-guessed is that educational institutions, they punish things that need to be punished, and people need to learn from their serious mistakes, but then we don’t want to destroy the lives of young people that can be salvaged.”
Q: Bob Stoops said if it had happened today, he would have been kicked off the team.
A: “I think it’d have been very hard. I think what Bob was saying was that in 2 ½ years, a lot of opinions have changed on that subject. My opinions haven’t changed. I think it was wrong to hit a woman, no matter the provocation, no matter what the circumstance. I think that person should always be punished. But on the other hand, I don’t want to throw Father Flanagan to the dustbin of history. That wonderful character in the movie, the priest, who gave people a chance, who gave young people a chance to learn from their mistakes and to make a better life for themselves. And you know, I just read the Pope’s book called, ‘The Name of God is Mercy,’ and I’d ask people to think a little bit before they want to reach out and let one single incident, when someone has a clean record, destroy and entire productive life. Punishment, yes. Ruining lives permanently, no.”
Q: So public perception is an influencer in how you decide to punish someone?
A: “No. Not at all. And so I think we did the right thing at the time, and I think we should have exacted a tough punishment, which we did. Some people talk as if we didn’t have a punishment. Well, we did. But I think after that, the job of a university, and the job of an educational institution, is to put young people on the right path, to learn from their mistakes. And I hope that’s what we’ve done. I hope that’s what we’ll do a hundred years from now.”
Q: There’s a question about the perception to the SAE incident, your reaction to that and how immediate it was, the dismissal of the young men…
A: “Yes, well this was immediate, too. The minute we saw the video, it was immediate. We didn’t even have any discussion about ‘Should there be punishment? Should there be severe punishment? Should he even continue to play on the team at that time?’ No. We dismissed him from the team, we didn’t even let him practice, we didn’t let him travel. That was a very harsh penalty. But what we did say is, ‘If you’ll get your life straightened out, if you’ll get on the right path, and if you’ll be constructive from now on out, you do your community service, you’ll get anger management training, you do all the other things that we’re calling on you to do, we’ll release you to go somewhere else, if you don’t want to measure up to these requirements that we’re putting on you.’ That’s what was done at the time and I think that’s exactly right, what should have been done at the time. I’m not one of these people that wants to be involved—as a university president, I want to help young people learn from their mistakes and get on the right path. I’m not in the business, as a university president, of destroying entire lives and entire futures of young people. If they want to get someone else to be university president that’s in the destruction business, get ‘em. I’m in the education business.”
Q: Has OU considered changing its background checks system?
A: “Well, we have one of the strongest in the country, and we’ll continue to do that. Most universities, many in the country, do not have background checks. We do. And of course, in the Mixon case, we did a background check. And you know what we found? His teachers, his classmates, people in his community said he had the cleanest record that they’d ever seen for a young person his age. So none of these things are foolproof. You do the best you can. I think we’re a national model. We’ve moved our enforcement section out from under the athletics department. It’s separate. It’s in the general counsels’ office. We have one of the most active, model, Title IX programs in the nation. We don’t tolerate violence against women. So we’re a model. But what I don’t ever want to be a model, as I just said to him, I don’t want to be a model for the destruction of the lives of young people and never let young people learn from their mistakes. I think that’s wrong, and I think those people that have second-guessed it and rushed to mob mentality about this are wrong, and I think when they sit back and reflect upon it, I don’t think they want to be in the business of destroying individuals any more than I do as a university president.
Q: In that vein, then, is there any regret about your reaction to the SAE incident? Because those guys were gone immediately…
A: “No! Well, you have to. Because that was something that was just an open-and-shut case. You have to look at every case. What does that have to do with this? The fact situation was totally different. So you have to really totally consider all the facts. And if we want to have a situation where we just sort of, every time something happens, we think there’s some immediate answer to it without looking at the facts, without looking at the fact situation in every single case, without looking at the background, without looking at what’s been happening, then no, you have to look at every case one by one. These are hard decisions. How many of you want to get in the business of deciding the future of everybody’s life based upon what they do? It’s a hard decision to make. But I would say that the situation was totally different. You cannot—just like we had a recent situation where we took another action, where we had students that said, ‘Let’s bring back a weekly lynching on all the campuses,’ and there were all these emails to the freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania, you cannot put up with that. We live in a country where you simply cannot put up with that kind of bias, that kind of racial division in our society. The situation here had to do with one young person that had an absolutely clean record of every kind before this. And we did every background check, and what did they tell us? It just tells you background checks are not foolproof, either. You have to look at how the students have behaved once they come to university, and whether or not they’ve met all the preconditions. And let me say, if he had not met all the preconditions, there would have been zero tolerance for him not doing so. There wouldn’t have been a question about what to do.”
Q: So how disappointed were you with the parking ticket situation?
A: “Well, I was disappointed with that, and I made my views known about that at the time. And I insisted that he not play the next game at the time. So he learned from it. But he’s still taking counseling, he’s still trying to make himself into a better man. He’s learned from it. You all heard for yourselves what he said the other day. But what sort of puzzles me is, how could the media at the time, who all had the opportunity to see that tape when I saw it, and many of them said we were too harsh, and certainly my phone rang off the wall that I was too harsh—I don’t think we were too harsh. I think all the conditions we put in place were the right conditions. But on the other hand, I just go back to what I’m saying: how many people do you know, when they were 18 years old and they never had an episode whatsoever, an unblemished record, have ever made a mistake? How many people do you know that have never made a mistake in their lives? And I think it’s a sort of rush to judgment when you say, ‘Oh, the answer is, let’s destroy people’s lives, let’s don’t let ‘em have any sort of future, let’s don’t let ‘em learn from their mistakes. That’s — I don’t believe in that. And if you want to say — I thought the Father Flanagan I watched in the movies when I was growing up as a young person, I thought that person was very admirable, and I still think that today.”
Q: Did the Mixon case go before Steve Ashmore in student conduct?
A: “The Mixon case, we had several other cases — in fact, if you want to know about my own record, we had a Title IX case involving a player, Frank Shannon, the local judge wouldn’t let us enforce our punishment and keep him off the team; I took the case to the state supreme court. I think what a lot of people don’t understand is, I may be the first person in the country to ever go to a state supreme court to enforce a Title IX ruling in our university. That’s how firmly we believe in these things and how strongly we want to set a national example. But I think you have to look at every case, case by case, look at the fact situation in the individual cases. And as I say, background checks are not foolproof. You look at others who have been an important part of our team, there’s been a lot of discussion about that. They’ve been model citizens at the university since they’ve been there. So getting the people on the right track, giving people — one of the greatest things, and I’ve seen this even more since I’ve been president of the university, one of the greatest things about intercollegiate sports, it is a place that provides equal opportunity for all sorts of people. Whether they grew up in single-parent families, whether they grew up in poverty, whether they grew up without role models, they have a chance, by being good citizens at a university and by playing on a team, playing by the rules, it’s one of the greatest places in America, where people can start the bottom — if we want to talk about their socioeconomic conditions — and still have the opportunity to make it to the top. And we can second-guess all these things. And I think we should have tough rules. And I think we should have punishments. And I don’t know if you can find a case where we haven’t made a punishment where we thought a punishment was right. But I think when we do something permanent—and I just appeal to you as members of the press, you write about it all the time, you broadcast about it — let’s not — intercollegiate (athletics) is a place of great opportunity for young people who grew up in poverty and the most difficult of circumstances that none of us can imagine; let’s don’t take away that opportunity to rise from humble beginnings and have opportunities through intercollegiate sports. And let’s not swing the pendulum so far in the other direction that we use it to destroy people and snuff out the possibilities for their lives, instead of giving them something to build on. So I think we ought to think about that. When people want to play God, and they want to push people in the dustbin of future possibilities in their lives, I think that’s wrong. I think what’s right is, set a punishment that is a serious punishment, set conditions you have to live up to that are serious and demanding, and then give people the opportunity to reclaim their lives and put it on the right path. I think if we stop that spirit in intercollegiate sports, if we become too judgmental about people who grew up in circumstances very unlike ourselves, I think we permanently damage intercollegiate sports, and I think we ought to think long and hard about that.”
Q: So the Mixon case did not go before Steve Ashmore in student conduct?
A: “The Mixon case was first a criminal case. And then of course, we immediately looked at it ourselves.”
Q: Right, so it didn’t go before Steve Ashmore’s office?
A: “The person never filed a complaint with Title IX.”
Q: Who conducts your background checks, the third party?
A: “The third party is compliance, and it reports to the general counsel’s office, not the athletic department.”
Q: What is the name of that third party?
A: “It’s the general counsel of the university. The general counsel of the university is where the Title IX office, rather where our compliance and athletics resides. You don’t have the athletic department judging its own compliance. You have the general counsel’s office judging it there.”
Q: Was there a contract with someone for this service?
A: “We have people hired for this. Come and look. Come visit our Title IX office. It’s considered a model of the country and there are schools all over the United States coming into look at how our Title IX office functions. Because it’s all very confidential in terms of complaints, certainly not like at some other universities, where you have to go to the coach to make a complaint or somebody else to make a complaint. You come, you get an objective investigation into it — if you wish to make a complaint. We can’t compel people to, but that’s where they come. That’s how Title IX works.”
Q: “So the third party, they’re employees of the university?
A: “They’re employees of the university, yes. And they’re employees of the general counsel’s office, not of the athletics department.”
Q: So by third party, you mean it’s just outside of athletics?
A: “Yes. One of the reforms nationwide has been the ‘best practice,’ because for many years, you had compliance inside the athletics department, reporting to the athletics director, etc. That was deemed to not be independent enough or objective enough, so schools across the country — not all of them, but many of them now that follow the best practice — have that compliance function totally outside of the athletics department. So we did that several years ago, and I think that’s the right thing to do.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard on The Franchise Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. every weekday with co-host Lauren Rew and most mornings on The Franchise in Oklahoma City. Listen on fm107.9, am1270 on the 107.7 Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page.