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Capitol Insider: Chancellor Johnson Reflects Before Retirement

Dick Pryor/KGOU
Chancellor Glen Johnson spoke with KGOU on Oct 8, 2019.

In this episode of Capitol Insider, KGOU's Dick Pryor and eCapitol's Shawn Ashley speak with Glen Johnson about his thirteen years leading Oklahoma's higher education system and his plan to retire next year. 


Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics, policy and government. I'm Dick Pryor with eCapitol News Director Shawn Ashley. This week, part two in our conversation with Chancellor of Higher Education, Glen Johnson, the CEO of the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education. Chancellor, you've been a college president. You came from a distinguished career in state government. In your almost 13 years as chancellor, how has that job changed and evolved? 

Chancellor Glen Johnson: Well, quite a bit, actually, Dick. I think when I came into this role to a large degree anytime you looked at expansion there was almost a default to that's got to be a brick and mortar initiative. Now, it may very well be it's an expansion in the online arena. It may be a collaborative effort, ,where it's campuses going together to merge their ideas. The free speech issue was not nearly as dominant a decade ago. I go back to 2007... I'd been in this job about three months when we had the tragedy at Virginia Tech. Whether you're a college or university president, whether you're in this role, I think everyone should every day view possibly their primary responsibility as doing everything they can to make sure that campuses are safe and secure. And I think we've done a lot in that space, quite frankly, with limited resources. 

Shawn Ashley: Stories came out last summer indicating Gov. Kevin Stitt wanted a new chancellor, although the power to make that decision, of course, lies with the state regents, not the governor. Since then, you've announced your plan to retire at the end of 2020. 

Johnson: Right. 

Ashley: How did you come to that decision? 

Johnson: Well, it was, frankly, it was a discussion that occurred over a period of time with the state regents, certainly with with my wife, Melinda. But, you know, looking at the entire environment, looking at what would be best for the system, best for me...I felt selecting a retirement date of December next year would would offer opportunities for a couple of things. One, we're in the throws of developing what I hope is going to be a very comprehensive agenda for higher education in terms of addressing workforce needs, concurrent enrollment, deferred maintenance... Providing enough time for our regents to have a comprehensive national search for my position, and then whatever transition time would be necessary to have an effective transition of leadership. Those would be my goals. That gets you to December 2020, and that's how I arrived at that decision. 

Ashley: Oftentimes when somebody makes a decision like this to retire or to leave a position at some point in the future, there's that one thing, that special thing they want to accomplish more than anything else in that time period. What's yours? 

Johnson: Well, mine would be for us to look back on the 2020 Legislative Session as a higher ed session. We've got a good game plan. We've got our priorities in the right order. What we need, a number of the things that we've got to do, requires funding. That would be very important to me. 

Pryor: You've got a big year ahead. 

Johnson: I do. 

Pryor: There's a trend for universities to hire business professionals in leadership positions, even if they have limited experience in education or government. Is this reflective of a change in philosophy and governing approach for higher ed institutions? Or, perhaps a need?

Johnson: Yeah, I think I would answer this way. Thirty years ago the ability to be an effective fundraiser as a college university president was not as high on the list as it was 20 years ago, 15 years ago, and now because, it's critically important now. I would say the same thing about expertise and experience in the financial arena. As you look at all of the pressure points in higher education... Go back this last decade, finances and the budget has been, if not a critical issue, maybe even the critical issue. 

Pryor: Chancellor Glen Johnson, thanks for joining us. 

Johnson: Thank you. 

Pryor: That's Capitol Insider. If you have questions e-mail us at news@kgou.org or contact us on Twitter at @kgounews. You can also find us online at kgou.org and eCapitol.net, on Apple podcasts and Spotify. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor. 

Caroline produced Capitol Insider and did general assignment reporting from 2018 to 2019. She joined KGOU after a stint at Marfa Public Radio, where she covered a wide range of local and regional issues in far west Texas. Previously, she reported on state politics for KTOO Public Media in Alaska and various outlets in Washington State.
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