Clay Bennett announced his retirement from the University of Oklahoma Board of Regents this week. His legacy is enormous. It is hardly an understatement to say that Clay Bennett has done more good for OU and for our community as a whole than we will ever realize.
Bennett is best known as the businessman who led the investment group that purchased and brought to Oklahoma City our crown athletic jewel, the Thunder NBA franchise. He continues to serve as Thunder chairman, and he has won national respect for his leadership of one of the best franchises in all of professional sports.
But he has hardly been content with that achievement. As a civic leader, Bennett saw the need to address Oklahoma’s excessive incarceration rates in state prisons and local jails. He took the lead in discussions of how to address that issue while maintaining public safety, and the result has been a series of wise reforms, both at the state and local levels.
At OU his impact has touched the most lives. As a member and eventually chairman of the board of regents, Bennett became concerned over the steadily rising cost of tuition and fees paid by students and over the encroaching debt that was burdening the university. He was a pivotal mover in hiring James Gallogly as the university’s new president, and he rejoiced with most Oklahomans when Gallogly held tuition level, pushed through faculty pay raises, increased scholarships for the most vulnerable, and began savings efforts to get the OU budget under control.
Clay Bennett is a one-of-a-kind, successful man by most measures; his business, Dorchester Capital, is a major financial entity. But it is the least among us, including minority and poor young people, who have benefited a great deal from his leadership at OU. They were being priced out of attending college there, but now they have new opportunities to enhance the diversity of the school and to build better futures for themselves.
Clayton Bennett is one of those rare individuals who enhances everything he touches. His departure from the OU board of regents closes a single chapter there, but it allows us to celebrate the ongoing transformation that is making one of our flagship universities better, bigger, and broader than ever.
We are grateful to Mr. Bennett and wish him the very best.
(Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs ( www.ocpathink.org).