OU President Discusses End Of School Year Affected By Pandemic

Friday, May 14th 2021, 10:17 am
By: Tevis Hillis

NORMAN, Oklahoma -

During the days before Spring Break 2020, instruction left the classrooms in Norman whether students and professors were ready or not.

"It was clear with the amount of uncertainty we had we needed to go online," University of Oklahoma president Joseph Harroz, Jr. said.

When the fall semester came, the pandemic soared into its biggest surges.

"We needed to be ready. Were we perfectly ready? No," Harroz said.

When the state's flagship university stood by a decision to allow in-person class options with mask and social distance requirements, students reported bars and house parties across Norman packed with their classmates.

But Harroz said the university's choices were based on local COVID-19 trends and consistently testing students.

"It's not a pleasant experience to get tested,” Harroz said. “But it was so important to have the ability to because there were so many unknowns.” 

In addition to the unpleasantness of getting COVID tested, turning in consistent test results from different labs were also a stumbling block.

"Yeah, it was, and the most used word in the last 12 months is ‘unprecedented,’” Harroz said. “But the need to get data from separate sources to get them together to make judgments of combined data then was not in place. So, working with the county, state, and private labs was really complex. It was far from perfect, and it got better."

The University of Oklahoma hosts nearly 40,000 students with most of them within the 15 to 24-year-old age group.

The age group represented more COVID cases than any other.

Harroz said the school will make some adjustments for the upcoming fall.

"Our COVID vaccination will be mandatory for those who are patient-facing," Harroz said. "Those participating in travel abroad will participate in that. Outside of that, vaccines will not be required."

What does the university’s stance on vaccines mean for a freshman attending a class with potentially hundreds of other students in one lecture hall?

"You make sure everyone has the opportunity to be vaccinated,” Harroz said. “Now, we look at the other protocols we need to take to make sure the classroom is safe."

This summer, Harroz said the university’s board will re-evaluate whether other mitigation strategies should roll into next semester.

It seems history will decide OU's final score.