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Governor chooses OU grad from Ohio as new regent

Gov. Kevin Stitt on Friday appointed a graduate of the University of Oklahoma’s business school to serve on the OU Board of Regents, choosing an African American at a time when students have been demanding more diversity.

Eric Stevenson, 55, of Columbus, Ohio, will serve a 7-year term that was previously held by Clayton I. Bennett. Stevenson's appointment still must be confirmed by the state Senate.

"I'm really grateful ... for the opportunity to partner with President (James) Gallogly and the other regents to ensure that OU continues to provide great access and affordability for all those students who have great dreams, just like I did," Stevenson said at a news conference at the state Capitol.

Stevenson is a senior management employee for Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, where he leads one of the largest sales forces of retirement plans in the United States.

Stitt said it was Stevenson’s great business acumen that made him a top choice for a regent’s appointment, but noted that Stevenson’s African American heritage was definitely a “bonus.”

OU regents and administrators have been dealing with racial tensions aggravated by a January incident when a female OU student used a racial slur while appearing in blackface on social media. Regents also have been making tough budget cuts in an effort to bring university expenses in line with revenues.

"I think any time there is a challenge, there is an even bigger opportunity," Stevenson said. "If it were just a show, that wouldn't be of interest. But the opportunity to make a difference to the place that changed my life — it doesn't get any better than that."

Stevenson said addressing campus racial issues is something that regents will need to do as a group, led by Gallogly.

"That won't be something that any one person can tackle," he said. "I'm anxious to learn more about some of the issues that are happening and we'll certainly talk and partner and collaborate in the best way that we can to make a difference there."

Stevenson, who grew up in Wagoner, said he doesn't believe the fact that he now lives in Ohio will be a detriment to his ability to serve the university as a regent.

"Oklahoma has certainly a regional impact, but it also has a national brand and even an international brand," Stevenson said. "I think that outside perspective will make a difference. I think that will be a nice balance to the other regents."

Stevenson said he will pay his own way to attend regents' meetings, so travel expenses won't be an issue.

Stitt said Stevenson's offer to pay his own travel expenses was significant.

"It was important," Stitt said. "I didn't want to saddle the University of Oklahoma with travel expenses."

Stevenson will fill one of two vacancies that currently exist on the seven-member board of regents. None of the other current members is African American. Previous African Americans to serve on the board include Sylvia Lewis (1986-1992), Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher (1992-1993) and Melvin C. Hall (1992-1999), a university representative said.

Career began at Xerox

Stevenson, an active OU alumnus, currently serves on the University of Oklahoma Price College of Business Finance Department Advisory Board.

Stevenson has a Bachelors of Business Administration in Finance degree from OU and a Master's degree from Northwestern University Kellogg Graduate School of Management.

He began his career working for Xerox in Oklahoma City and worked for Quaker Oats and Warner Lambert before joining Nationwide.

He also has been a small business owner. Stevenson said 18 years ago he and his wife took $150,000 and bought a Wendy's franchise. They grew the franchise to the point where it had more than 100 employees and about $8 million in annual revenue before selling out last month.

"For me, that was all about having a vision, working hard and making the sacrifice that you needed to make and then creating opportunities for others," he said.

Stevenson described his experience as an OU student as being a time when he made close friendships that have continued throughout his life.

"Our stories are so similar, all of us coming from backgrounds without a lot of money, without a lot of big university sort of experience, but really having a desire to learn and to grow and contribute," he said.

Stevenson said he would like to use his time as regent to "continue to create that kind of access and opportunity" for all OU students.

Related Photos
<strong>Eric Stevenson, tapped to be a University of Oklahoma regent, speaks Friday at a Capitol press conference.  [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman]</strong>

Eric Stevenson, tapped to be a University of Oklahoma regent, speaks Friday at a Capitol press conference. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-c8cfe5003882329c4c230ec04ab36bed.jpg" alt="Photo - Eric Stevenson, tapped to be a University of Oklahoma regent, speaks Friday at a Capitol press conference. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman] " title=" Eric Stevenson, tapped to be a University of Oklahoma regent, speaks Friday at a Capitol press conference. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Eric Stevenson, tapped to be a University of Oklahoma regent, speaks Friday at a Capitol press conference. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-2bf52fdef52d49efb9359ed0ea098ffb.jpg" alt="Photo - Eric Stevenson speaks Friday after Gov. Stitt named him to the University of Oklahoma Board of Regents [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman] " title=" Eric Stevenson speaks Friday after Gov. Stitt named him to the University of Oklahoma Board of Regents [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Eric Stevenson speaks Friday after Gov. Stitt named him to the University of Oklahoma Board of Regents [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure>
Randy Ellis

For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two... Read more ›

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