The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A short guide to the long political legacy of Oklahoma University President David Boren

University of Oklahoma President David Boren has been at the center of one of the week's major stories: a viral video showing multiple members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at the university singing a racist chant. Boren issued a scathing condemnation of the video  Monday  as he closed the fraternity and sent its members to find other living accommodations. On Tuesday, Boren expelled two of the students that the school says led the chant.

In a Monday news conference, Boren told reporters that he hoped his school's handling of the video would "be an example to the entire country of how to deal with his issue. There must be zero tolerance for racism everywhere in our nation.”

Boren, who earned national praise for his quick response to the video, has also been central to Oklahoma politics for a long time. It's part of the reason he was tapped to take the helm of the university in 1994.

Governor Boren

David Boren, then the son of a well-known former U.S. congressman for the state,  became governor of Oklahoma in 1974 after defeating the Republican nominee in a landslide election. That losing Republican, by the way, was current Sen. Jim Inhofe.

He was just 33 years old when he became governor. He ran and won on a reform platform that colorfully included a group of supporters called the "Boren Broom Brigade." They promised that Boren would "sweep out the old guard and clean up Oklahoma."

Senator Boren 

From  1979 to 1994, Boren was a U.S. senator representing Oklahoma. He's a Democrat, although his legislative history leans conservative. He chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee for six years. And like virtually every recent member of Congress from Oklahoma, his legacy on taxation and energy policy reflects the state's deep connections to the oil industry. 

In 1983, Boren voted for a bill that would make Martin Luther King Day a federal holiday, a moment Boren referenced in his news conference  Monday“I remember when I voted for the Martin Luther King holiday,” he said. “I received about 100,000 letters not approving.”

When he resigned his spot in the Senate to take over as university president, Boren wrote:

At the end of certain days, I sometimes asked myself what I had really done to help solve the major problems facing our country. My honest answer was: not much.
Today's Senate is not the body I joined 16 years ago. Partisanship is much stronger. Today, senators of different parties go into one another's states and campaign against one another, violating an old tradition and making it almost impossible to put party politics aside to work together in the national interest.

After his resignation, Inhofe won the empty seat, which he's kept ever since. Boren's son, Dan, did hold the state's 1st Congressional District from 2004 to 2012, when he retired.