OKLAHOMA CITY — Nearly three dozen lawmakers expressed dismay with the University of Oklahoma’s decision to disregard the state’s “collaborative spirit” and join with the University of Texas to seek membership in the SEC, ignoring its long-time in-state partner, Oklahoma State.
The letter sent to OU President Joe Harroz was signed by a bipartisan group of 34 lawmakers from across the state.
“It has been a priority of the Oklahoma legislature for state entities of higher education to work together — not just for what’s best for one institution, but looking out for what is best for the state as a whole,” the letter reads.
The letter follows a joint statement issued Monday regarding a move to the Southeastern Conference by OU and Texas, leaving the state’s other flagship public university, Oklahoma State University, in the Big 12.
“We are disappointed in the lack of transparency and making decisions of such magnitude at a time when the Oklahoma Legislature is out of session,” the letter reads. “It is our desire to see collaboration and parity for our state’s two comprehensive institutions. Moving forward, we ask that you keep legislators and the public informed as this situation is of great importance to the state of Oklahoma.”
OU officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday night.
State Rep. Kyle Hilbert, R-Bristow, the principal author of the letter, said Wednesday night that OU’s move to the SEC from the Big 12 seems a “foregone conclusion at this point.” The SEC is reportedly slated to vote on accepting both schools Thursday. OU’s governing board is then slated to meet Friday to approve the move.
But Hilbert said he wanted to remind OU that it is a public institution that receives taxpayer funding and “should be collaborating and working together” with other public entities, like OSU.
Hilbert said he wouldn’t be surprised if some lawmakers file legislation next year pertaining to the realignment or attempt to stop it. But with the deal set to be finalized before the Legislature reconvenes next February, Hilbert said he doesn’t know what recourse lawmakers would have at that point.
“I frankly don’t know what options would be on the table at this time,” he said. “We’ll have to see.”
Hilbert, an OSU graduate and former student body president, said it’s not so much the fact that OU is moving to the SEC, as it is the process of how it happened and that the university has aligned itself with the University of Texas.
Hilbert said a lot of lawmakers have concerns about the economic impact OU’s decision will have on communities across the state. The Creek County town of Mannford, for instance, benefits from the game-day traffic heading to Stillwater.
Hilbert, who serves as one of the state House’s top budget officials, said he’s certain there will be discussions of all sorts on the table next year when lawmakers consider how to ensure financial “parity” for OU and OSU.
“I’m just hopeful that both institutions (will be) in a position where they can both be successful,” he said.
He said he hopes the letter sends a message to not only OU, but all state agencies, that lawmakers expect them to work together for the betterment of all Oklahomans.
Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at email@example.com.