Head and heart: Why Robert Henry returned to OCU

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Published: 08-Jul-2010

After a distinguished tenure on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, including a term as chief judge, Robert Henry left the bench to become president of Oklahoma City University, succeeding Tom McDaniel. Judge Henry became President Henry on July 1, surrendering a life-tenured federal position to take on the challenges of raising money for a private institution of Higher Education.
Concerning his reasons for taking on the new OCU job, Henry said he always had a tug to return to academia after his previous tenure as law school dean there. He also said he considers such work a continuation of the public service that began in his twenties, when he was elected to the state House from Shawnee, and his later term as Oklahoma attorney general.
However, Henry explained that ultimately former Oklahoma City Mayor Ron Norick had a lot to do with his decision.
In an interview in his office on campus, Henry told CapitolBeatOK, “Ron Norick is a friend. We entered the state Hall of Fame together. I was honored at an event here at OCU in conjunction with that, and after that he asked for a meeting.  Larry Nichols presented him at the induction, and Sandra Day O’Connor presented me. The OCU brunch was a truly memorable event.
“When we met he expressed his admiration for my work and appreciation for my past work at OCU in the law school. He had been put in charge of the search committee for the new president, and told me his goal was to get as many good applicants as possible for the job.”
Henry said, “I was flattered that a man like Ron Norick would come to me; I didn’t live in a gated community but I worked in a ‘gated community’ at the federal courthouse here in Oklahoma City. He had asked me to pull some material together. I gave him my resume and a couple of recent articles I’d done at that time on higher education.”
Then, Henry said, “He asked if I would apply for the job myself. I said I just couldn’t, I had too many good aspects to my job on the appeals court. He looked at the material I’d given him and said, ‘What in the world am I supposed to do with this?’ He challenged me and said, ‘You want to do this, but there is a battle between your head and your heart. Your head says no, but your heart says yes.’”
Norick, whose family has long been among OCU’s strongest supporters, encouraged Henry by asking, “Why don’t you just come and interview?” Henry recalls that Norick “wanted a good block of candidates and I fit the bill.”
So, after reflection, “I decided to go through the process. I had never been so nervous. I wasn’t sure it was the right thing to do. At the court it seemed to me like a lifetime deal, and of course very few people ever leave. … My father, uncle and brother had all been judges, so the appeal of that life to me was deep.
“But I love higher education. I love teaching. I taught at St. Gregory’s in Shawnee. I had many good ties to the University of Oklahoma and of course Oklahoma Baptist University. Through the years in fact I’ve spent time in classrooms at OCU, OU, OBU, St. Gregory’s and the University of Tulsa. When I travel I always visit the universities in the cities where I go.”
He continued, “What kept going through my mind was that at the age of 56, if I were going to make a change, it was time. There was a narrow window and I really would as a practical matter be locked into the court career, a good option but this opportunity was indeed beginning to tug at me. In terms of security, the court job was a good one. I made a sacrifice to leave there, but in the end I did it.”