Gary Russi question and answer session on bike in beer lake, Micah, money and more

By Colleen Miller

Capital Campaign No. 2

After raising $112 million in the first capital campaign, Russi is already starting to feel out some of the big donors for another round.

“Well, the way campaigns work is you usually go through a silent period. And what that means is you go and work with your major donors, people who can give large money. And based on the response to the silent phase then you set the goal,” Russi explained. “Campaign two, at this point, we’re looking at numbers much larger than 110 but of course that will be driven by the response in the actual solicitation. And that means hundreds and hundreds of private meetings with potential donors. “

These meetings have already begun and will continue for some time. Russi treats potential donors to Grizzly basketball games, Meadow Brook Theatre performances, student performances, you name it.

“That process has started and we’re pretty excited about that as we move along.,” Russi said.

Money, Money, Money

Last year, OU saw a 3 percent reduction in state funding, leading to a 9 percent tuition increase and an across-the-board salary freeze. While it’s unknown what OU will get this year, it’s not expected to be much better.

“The condition of the state just continues to erode, and this year is not going to be an extremely positive year. And that’s true of all forecasts anywhere you want to look. The good news is, maybe by the end of calendar year ’11 things might change a little bit,” Russi said. “That’s almost two years away. But most forecasts are saying that there might be a shift. So we’re going to be challenged I think for a couple of years.”

Russi said OU is hearing that there may be a double-digit cut next year from the state and tuition will likely go up again. While enrollment went up higher than expected in fall 2009, Russi said whether or not there will be a surplus in revenue depends on retention rates of those students through summer and next fall. Regardless, that amount of tuition for those additional students is “relatively small” in the grand scheme of the university’s budget.

Despite the unsteady state economy, Russi is assured that OU’s jobs are pretty secure.

“I can tell you that we have protected the academic core. We’ve lost no jobs as opposed to most institutions around us there’s huge cuts, there’s furloughs and layoffs, and we have not done it here,” Russi said. 

A revenue estimating conference will be held in early February, Russi said, which will give OU a better idea of how much revenue the state will be working with. The governor’s state of the state address should also provide some insight into the year to come.

OU has also recently hired a lobbying firm to actively lobby for the university at the national level, which Russi said is paying off well.

“There is still about 400 million out in play by the federal government and they have to make a decision of what they are going to do with that stimulus money,” he said. “We’ve been very active in federal funding and we have begun to secure a lot of funds to support our faculty and we’ve done that in support of research, particularly in some specific program. Now we are going to create two centers as a result of it, one is a tribology center.” Triboloy is the science and the use of lubrication. OU just received $1.6 million to support that and the faculty and the research. The other center which received federal funding is an energy center. 

“We’re pretty excited about (the centers) because right now obviously the state does not have a whole lot of money and the federal government still has money and they are starting to let it out as part of the stimulus program and we want to be at the table to get it,” Russi said. 

Weighing in on Micah’s “student” status

“I think the key thing is the word student. If the student is admitted and matriculated as a normal student, they certainly have access to the residence halls,” Russi said. “We do have disabled students, we have cognitively impaired students, these are fully admitted students to this campus, therefore they have access to all the facilities, whether it be athletic facilities, Rec Centers, residence halls, I think it’s all tied up into the definition of what a student is.”

The Bike in Beer Lake

“Save the Bike from Beer Lake” is one of the Facebook groups to pop up centered on OU. Since Russi was president when a car was pulled out of that same lake in 2002, The Post asked him about it:

“You know the bridge that goes across Bear Lake, the underside of the bridge was falling down and getting to the point where it had to have some major repair. So what happened was the facilities people started draining this lake, and as they got deeper and deeper, a top of a car appears. And this was amazing, we of course called the sheriff’s department and they sent out the divers and we didn’t know if anybody was in there, how the car got in there, and fortunately there was nobody or any form of bodies in that car. Of course the divers determined that, and then the next question was how do you get this thing out of there, so they brought in a wrecker and they pulled it out. The amazing thing was, this was a new car. This was brand new. I think it was a little station wagon. But they look in the glove department, and there’s a registration in this glove department. They trace this registration to a former student, now is no longer who married and has children and the police tracked her down, and so they got the story and the story was this. One night she was very distraught having some personal issues as a student, and she decided to take her own life. So she sat in the parking lot out here, she gets in the car, she goes for the lake. As she was going down, she decides this is not the thing to do. Fortunately, her driver’s side window was open, she crawls out and she left the car. …

“We thought it was amazing and they could track her. She’s perfectly healthy. Wonderful family. The whole thing. It’s a very interesting story. I’m just so glad there was nobody in the car.”

Russi said he remembers a lot of bikes being pulled out of the lake basin when it was drained, among other things. 

“I do remember a lot of bikes, a lot of tires and a lot of beer cans. A lot of stuff as you could imagine,” he said. 

Russi also explained why the lake may have been dubbed “Beer” Lake.

“You know we have an alum who wrote a book about his years in the ’60s here. And of course that’s when all the unrest, the Vietnam war, and the protest … So he wrote a book about that, he had pictures of in the summertime because they didn’t have refrigerators anything, they would put their beverage of choice in the water. They had little fishing lines and they just put their beverage of choice in there to keep it cool.”


In response to a growing student body, and the anticipation of the Human Health Building taking up existing parking spaces, OU has been working with student leaders to create a plan for new parking spaces on campus.

That number is not definite yet, and neither is the exact location, but it’s looking like there will be well over 400 new spaces to be added over the summer. Most of those will be new spaces, while some will be repurposed, said Dave Groves in media relations. During the construction of the Human Health Building, about 50 spots will be unusable.

Groves said OU Vice President of Finance and Administration John Beaghan will propose will be presented to the student congress soon, then finalized and presented to the board of trustees in March.

“That is a normal thing for us to do every year,” Russi said of parking expansions. In October, 72 more parking spaces were created. “(We are) expanding it next year, it will happen again the following year, this is a normal consideration for us as we consider what we need.”

Med School           

Russi said that the medical school will be brought up at the March board of trustees meeting only if there will be a report from the dean about what the accreditation body has decided to do. 

Russi: Hopefully, that would be the case. We’ll be working very hard in the next several weeks and months to make sure that we’ve responded and addressed some of the key issues. We’re committed to making that happen.

“The accrediting body the liaision committee on medical education will look at our application and this will occur early in February, so we should hear early to mid-month about what’s happening in our medical school. In the meantime, of course, preparation continues to open the medical school so once we get accreditation the doors of the medical school will officially open. And then what will happen after that is they will be going through a process to solicit applications and then they will make decisions who will be in the first class, and the first class will be in 2011 … the target is 50 students. But based on what I can tell you right now, there are many, many people ready to apply in anticipation of getting in that medical school.”

 — Interview transcribed by Staff Intern Shawn D. Minnix, conducted by Editor-in-Chief Colleen J. Miller and Campus Editor Kay Nguyen