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A pox on all their houses

The University of Oklahoma’s terrible, awful, really bad week



Oklahoma Memorial Student Union at the University of Oklahoma Norman campus

Gau Meo

A few weeks back, Jabar Shumate, OU vice president for the university community, resigned his position (rather than be fired) and wrapped himself in hyperbole and obfuscation.

“The nature of these allegations are not only slanderous, but from my perspective, constitute a high-tech lynching,” Shumate said.

A high-tech what? Where have we heard that before?

And from my standpoint as a black American, as far as I’m concerned, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you.

For the love of Anita Hill: Clarence Thomas is Shumate’s go-to muse?

He should have been fired for that alone.

I haven’t been a fan of Shumate’s since he left the Oklahoma state legislature in 2015 to take a job with the American Federation for Children (AFC)—a conservative, dark money group hell-bent on privatizing public schools. It is financed by such beauties as Secretary of Education Betsy Devos and her brother Erik Prince, founder of the private mercenary company Blackwater USA, which tells you everything you need to know about the organization for whom Shumate planned to abandon his constituents and his soul. Shumate said at the time he found politics dirty.

Sure. Politics are dirty, and the people associated with Amway, Blackwater, and ALEC are the disinfectant.

Oy.

“At this time,” Shumate said in his resignation announcement, “I have to think about my family.”

Hold the meringue. I’m getting diabetes.

Before Shumate got his AFC parking space, though, he accepted an offer from then-president of OU David Boren to run the school’s diversity office—a department Boren first had to create, which he did after unceremoniously tossing Sigma Alpha Epsilon from campus when some of its members were seen performing a racist musical number on a party bus.

Boren placed Shumate and the new department in SAE’s old, university-owned frat house near campus—a deft touch. I asked Boren at the time about Shumate’s plans to join AFC. Boren laughed and said, “Yeah, I don’t know what was going on with that.”

Fast-forward to Boren’s retirement on June 30 and the naming of his successor, James L. Gallogly, a former oil executive who donated millions to the university and whose selection seemed inspired by the Vatican.

Gallogly’s selection is the result of a months’ long presidential search process conducted largely in secret by OU’s Board of Regents, a representative search committee and an outside professional search firm.

All that was missing was a puff of white smoke.

If it wasn’t obvious that Boren was Clarence Odbody to Shumate’s George Bailey, it became clear after Gallogly took over and decided Shumate would no longer report directly to him but rather to the school’s provost.

Which brings us to July 25, when Shumate held a press conference announcing his resignation, saying he was told he’d be fired if he didn’t.

The story would have ended there, but Shumate then alleged that university officials told him SAE was not only coming back to campus but also being given back its former digs—a move so potentially insulting and stupid, it’s astonishing school officials had so much trouble refuting it.

We’ll get to that in a moment.

First to the firing:

The audit includes GPS data that shows Shumate’s university-owned 2016 Chevrolet Tahoe parked overnight at his residence hundreds of times. It also shows Shumate took the vehicle to Tulsa over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, including stops at his mother’s home.8

The University of Oklahoma canned Shumate for gassing up the Tahoe to go see his mom for the holidays?

Shumate responded:

“My duties required me to drive between all three of the University of Oklahoma campuses (Norman, OU Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City, and OU Tulsa campus). My duties also required me to frequently attend events, meetings and recruitment efforts in the evenings and early in the mornings. The university was well aware of my vehicle usage and therefore sanctioned it.”

Unless there are some noxious offenses committed by Shumate that the university doesn’t want to divulge, this is some rickety stuff—so rickety, in fact, there were reports OU wasn’t even going to release this report in hopes Shumate would go away quietly. When he didn’t and then alleged SAE was coming back, OU officials decided to release the travel audit and then tried stringing words together.

This is Ani V. Gollahalli, the vice president and general counsel to the presidents and board of regents at OU:

“I think there are always probably ongoing discussions with alumni about when that might be appropriate, if it would be appropriate,” Gollahalli said. “I’m not aware of any formal discussion that would set a date certain or that would have even said that they will be allowed back on campus, but I know President Boren has said . . . in the past that there may come a time, but that would have to be evaluated in the future. And I think that’s still the University’s position.”

You could pull a hamstring trying to get through that.

For its part, Sigma Alpha Epsilon was also as firm as Jell-O about a potential return. I contacted Johnny Sao, director of communications for SAE, and he wrote back the following:

The Oklahoma Kappa Chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon remains closed and its charter remains suspended. At this time, there is no timeline for the Chapter to return to the University of Oklahoma campus. Any reports to the contrary are inaccurate.

“At this time, there is no timeline . . . .”

Considering the obfuscation, double talk, and posturing of all the participants, you kind of wish they’d all stop talking at this point.

Let’s remember that SAE infractions at OU weren’t isolated to a few rogue racists singing on a bus trip. SAE is the Harvey Weinstein of fraternities.

At Northwestern:

SAE’s public controversy began in February, after Northwestern sent out an all-campus alert that four women allegedly were drugged and, of those, two possibly sexually assaulted at a Jan. 21 gathering at the SAE and another fraternity house. The allegations prompted protests and rallies around campus. Nevertheless, the IFC statement blasted the fraternity for ‘continuing to wear letters with pride instead of showing humility in the face of scandal [which] made it clear that there was no introspective analysis of the culture which fostered such vitriolic responses to the allegations.’

At Yale:

A brother at Yale’s chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon allegedly told a group of women at the fraternity-house door, ‘No, we’re only looking for white girls,’ a student who claims to have witnessed the interaction told The Washington Post. The student said that the brother, who is white, repeated ‘white girls only’ while plucking blonde girls from the line outside the house to enter the party.

Stanford:

In May, SAE’s Stanford chapter was kicked out of its on-campus house indefinitely and put on probation after a university investigation found three separate incidences of misconduct.

Connecticut:

A year earlier, the SAE chapter at the University of Connecticut was handed down a five-year ban after it hosted a party at its house with a sorority at which female students were pressured to drink alcohol and told to get on the floor and pretend to ‘sizzle like bacon.’

Cornell:

In 2011, a 19-year-old sophomore student at Cornell died after he was kidnapped, bound with zip-ties and duct tape, and forced to drink as part of an SAE hazing ritual. His blood-alcohol level was five times the legal limit.

With all that is known about SAE, by not unequivocally stating he would not allow the fraternity back on campus under any timetable and trotting out these Mickey Mouse travel infractions, James L. Gallogly embarrassed the university.

And by alleging the university was considering reinstating SAE—but alleging it only after being forced out of his job, all while channeling the martyrdom of Clarence Thomas, Jabar Shumate embarrassed himself.

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