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Prepping the president: Hargis wants next OSU president to be a strong manager, OSU graduate

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Burns Hargis speaks during the stadium dedication. 

Being the university president comes with tough decisions. Oklahoma State President Burns Hargis knows this all too well.

But when Hargis, who announced his retirement on Oct. 23, reflected on what he’d like to see from the next president of OSU, he didn’t hesitate in his answer. 

“It really helps if they’re people persons,” Hargis said. “They like people, they enjoy being around people and hearing from people and learning about them and showing genuine interest.”

Being a “people person” served Hargis well in his 13 years as OSU’s president. During his tenure, he’s prided himself on staying engaged in many university events, setting up new buildings and opportunities for students and never turning down a single sit-down conversation with a student.

“I want to know what’s going on,” Hargis said of his many meetings with students. 

When it comes to the daily tasks, however, not everything is so ceremonious for an OSU president. Hargis has to overlook many university departments and leaders as part of his job.

To help deal with this, Hargis said being a manager is important.

“It’d be nice if they had some management experience,” Hargis said. “I was fortunate enough to have some management experience from my banking career. How to manage a large number of people around a central goal.”

With management also comes decision making. In his time at OSU, Hargis’ toughest calls included deciding whether to play a football game after a crash that killed four people at homecoming in 2015, deciding to not conduct research on baboons in 2009 and on shutting the spring 2020 semester down during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

His ability to make decisions guided him through these.

“The worst thing in the world is to work for someone that can’t make a decision,” Hargis said. “(T. Boone Pickens) would say, ‘You don’t want to be a guy that’s ready, aim, aim, aim, aim, aim, aim, aim. You’ve got to pull the trigger.’”

In addition to management and decisions, Hargis noted that it could be beneficial if the future president’s background was in research. Many future projects at OSU deal with some of the more pressing research topics in the state.

“I think we have some real potential in the research area here when you consider the opioid funds we got from Purdue for the wellness and recovery center in Tulsa, the Baker Hughes building, which will now be called ‘OSU Discovery,’ in Oklahoma City is a great opportunity,” Hargis said. “The health department labs that are being moved up here, including the pandemic center is another great area where we can attract a lot of grants. So somebody that’s been in that world and really understands research and granting areas would be a really helpful asset to have.

“You don’t even have to have that expertise, you just have to be a manager that can get the job done.”

Something that can’t be replicated though is having OSU experience. Hargis is one of only two OSU presidents to also be an alumni of the school. He wants this number to increase.

“That’d be great if we could find an OSU grad,” Hargis said. “It gives you instant credibility with the faculty, students, donors and alumni. I think it really helped me a lot to know that I drank the same Kool-Aid.”

news.ed@ocolly.com