Ray Carter | June 11, 2021
Lawsuit seeks release of OU report on Boren allegations
News website NonDoc has filed a lawsuit in Cleveland County District Court asking a judge to order the release of two reports prepared by the Jones Day law firm for the University of Oklahoma, including one report dealing with sexual allegations against former OU President David Boren.
“Our organization is not litigious in nature, and this is not an action we take lightly,” William W. Savage III, editor-in-chief of NonDoc, wrote in announcing the lawsuit. “However, the seriousness of the alleged misconduct and lingering questions about what the state-funded investigations found are too important for us to ignore.”
In 2018, OU hired the Jones Day law firm to investigate allegations that the school had provided false reporting on alumni giving to U.S. News and World Report to inflate OU’s ranking in that publication’s annual “best colleges” survey. The false reporting reportedly began in 1999 during Boren’s tenure as president, which ran from 1994 to June 30, 2018.
In February 2019, it was reported that the firm’s investigation had been expanded to include allegations that Boren sexually harassed aides during his tenure.
The university has paid the Jones Day firm more than $1 million for those investigations.
However, the university has refused to publicly release either of the resulting reports.
That refusal has occurred even though Boren’s successor as OU president, James Gallogly, has said he believes that as a public government institution, OU should publicly release the Jones Day reports, saying the reports belong to the taxpayers, tuition payers, and public who made OU’s existence possible.
Gallogly served as OU president for just over a year before stepping down in 2019.
NonDoc’s lawsuit notes the university has declined to produce records associated with the Jones Day investigation that were requested by NonDoc through the state’s open-records act.
The university has also declined to provide documents related to the Jones Day investigation that were requested by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA).
On August 21, 2019, OCPA requested “all documentation that was given by OU to the Jones Day law firm or its agents or representatives regarding OU’s misreported alumni participation and donor data to U.S. News and World Report.”
On May 4, 2020, OU’s open-records office responded with a letter declaring that any “investigative reports that were provided to an outside firm would be confidential” under Oklahoma law.
NonDoc received a similar response. On May 1, 2019, Savage requested any “and all reports created by the law firm Jones Day for the University of Oklahoma relating to David Boren” and Boren associate Jim “Tripp” Hall. On June 12, 2019, OU sent a response saying the request dealt with a “specific employee” and that the university “will not undertake a search for records that would not be released even if they exist.” The OU response also said that any “report that legal counsel, retained by the University, provides at the conclusion of any investigation of any employee would be confidential” under state law.
Savage said the statutes cited to justify refusal to release the documents “have been improperly applied.”
“As of this date, OU has released neither report publicly, despite interest among taxpayers and donors and requests from media and an alleged victim of Boren’s unwanted sexual advances,” Savage wrote. “As a result, NonDoc filed a lawsuit Thursday in Cleveland County District Court asking a judge to order OU to release the Jones Day reports owing to overwhelming and compelling public interest in what occurred at the state’s flagship public university.”
NonDoc is being supported by the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, a nonprofit organization that provides pro bono legal representation, amicus curiae support, and other legal resources to protect First Amendment freedoms and the news-gathering rights of journalists.
The OU controversy echoes events at several other major universities.
After Baylor University was accused of failing to investigate numerous sexual assault allegations on its campus, the school hired the Pepper Hamilton law firm to conduct a review, but university officials claimed the work product produced by the firm was substantially presented “in the form of an oral presentation” and declined to publicly release anything other than a 10-page summary document.
Even so, in 2020, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas ruled that the university must turn over documents and recordings prepared by Pepper Hamilton in the course of the firm’s independent investigation.
In November 2011, officials announced that former FBI Director Louis Freeh would lead an independent inquiry to review Pennsylvania State University’s handling of allegations of child sex abuse against Jerry Sandusky, the former defensive coordinator for the university’s football team. Sandusky was accused of sexually abusing numerous young boys over a period of at least 15 years, and was ultimately convicted.
The resulting report issued by Freeh declared, “Four of the most powerful people at The Pennsylvania State University—President Graham B. Spanier, Senior Vice President‐Finance and Business Gary C. Schultz, Athletic Director Timothy M. Curley, and Head Football Coach Joseph V. Paterno—failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade.”
The Freeh report concluded that the “avoidance of the consequences of bad publicity is the most significant, but not the only, cause for this failure to protect child victims and report to authorities.”
When Larry Nassar, a physician and employee of Michigan State University, was found to have sexually abused hundreds of patients under the guise of medical treatment throughout his career, a subsequent Michigan State University report identified dozens of people who may have known about his crimes or those of William Strampel, former dean for the College of Osteopathic Medicine and one of Nassar’s bosses. The report found eight individuals failed to report after receiving notice of potential sexual misconduct.
Savage indicated the NonDoc lawsuit is prompted by a desire to keep an apparently similar scandal from being swept under the rug in Oklahoma.
“The sexual misconduct allegations against David Boren—which led to his full resignation from OU—and the financial reporting problems of his former administration are both chapters of Oklahoma history that currently are being kept secret,” Savage wrote. “The public deserves to know what happened, why it happened and how state leaders can avoid repeating these issues at OU and other institutions of higher education.”
[For more articles about higher education in Oklahoma, visit AimHigherOK.com.]
Director, Center for Independent Journalism
Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.