Shortly following the December 1 meeting of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, the OU Board of Regents met in Norman and voted to approve President David Boren’s appointment of former Oklahoma state Sen. Jonathan Nichols as vice president of governmental relations.
“I’m recommending the approval of Jonathan Nichols,” Boren said. He said that Nichols was “an advocate for education” and his pick to lobby legislators at the state Capitol to increase funding for higher education and particularly OU.
Boren referred to Nichols’ past record as a legislator, who directed funds to higher education, as a selling point for the former lawmaker.
“Jonathan Nichols has been an outstandingly committed advocate for the University of Oklahoma throughout his public service,” Boren said in a press release.
“As State Senator, Nichols was committed to increased investments in schools and education. In 2001, he was named ‘Most Courageous Legislator’ by the Higher Education Alumni Council of Oklahoma for his efforts to increase funding in the endowed positions program for higher education. In 2009, Nichols was honored by the Council of Presidents and the Oklahoma Regents for Higher Education for his distinguished service and continued support of higher education.”
The release went on to confirm that Nichols would have a lobbying role at the Capitol.
“As Vice President for Governmental Relations, Nichols will promote positive relationships with state and local policymakers and stakeholders to ensure legislative funding and policy initiatives reflect the needs of the University.”
In a June 20, 2016 report, “Higher Education Serves as Jobs Program for Former Elected Officials,” MiddleGround News documented a longstanding practice of higher education rewarding former politicians who directed taxpayer funds to higher education by creating new positions with exorbitant salaries for their employment following their time in elected office.
CIJ has learned that Nichols’ salary in the new position will be $175,000 annually. The former vice president of government relations, Scott Mason, will remain on the university payroll devoting most of his time to federal government relations as executive director of federal programs, according to the press release from Boren.
Mason served as political director in the Fallin for Governor campaign and then served as an executive aide and special assistant to Governor Fallin from 2010 to 2013.
Nichols, a Republican state senator from 2000 to 2012, was in attendance at the OU regents meeting and said he is eager to procure funding for higher education.
“I look forward to working with state officials to ensure that OU and higher education have the necessary funding for students to receive a quality 21st century education that will prepare them for an historically competitive job market,” he said. He called the opportunity to serve OU under Boren’s leadership “a humbling honor.”
Boren said that OU, and higher education in general, is expecting, “to go through a tough time financially.”
To combat the coming lean budgetary expectation, Boren advocated a renewed emphasis on friendly relationships with legislators. “It’s imperative that we put a great emphasis on our relationship with the state government,” he said.