Gov. Kevin Stitt’s big broom swept another long-time agency head from office on Friday with the announcement that State Chancellor Glen D. Johnson will retire at the end of 2020.
“This was Glen’s decision,” State Regents’ Chair Jody Parker said in a written statement. “The State Regents are pleased with Glen’s leadership and were not seeking a change.”
But Stitt was.
Elected on a promise to shake up state government, Stitt has dismissed or forced out just about all major agency heads. Constitutionally, the governor has no authority to replace the chancellor — only the nine-member Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education can do that.
But the governor can exert pressure, and Stitt has not been bashful about doing so. He signaled Johnson’s time had come earlier this month when he compared the chancellor to former University of Oklahoma football coach John Blake, whose losing record led to the hiring of Bob Stoops.
On Wednesday in Tulsa, Stitt said he had asked the 65-year-old Johnson about his retirement plans.
“I just think after 12 years we need to go in a different direction. We need a new spark. We need a new quarterback. I just think we need a new quarterback. It’s nothing personal.”
Stitt said he has no one in particular in mind for chancellor.
“That’s up to the board,” he said Wednesday. “I have no idea who that is. ... This is a big job.”
On Friday, Stitt was conciliatory.
“As former Speaker of the House, president of Southeastern Oklahoma State University, and Chancellor of Oklahoma’s State Regents for Higher Education, Chancellor Johnson has been a devoted leader and passionate advocate for education across our state,” Stitt said in a statement. “I look forward to working together this next session on making Oklahoma’s higher education system the best in the nation.”
Johnson has led Oklahoma’s public higher education system since 2007. Despite his political background, he seemed to get along well with the Republican-controlled Legislatures of the past 12 years and survived Republican Mary Fallin’s two terms as governor.
“He’s adapted to the position and promotes higher education without a partisan bent,” Senate Education Committee Chairman Gary Stanislawski, R-Tulsa, said this week before Friday’s announcement.
The son of a former congressman, also named Glen D. Johnson, the future chancellor entered the Oklahoma House of Representatives in 1982 and became speaker in 1990. At 36, he was the youngest speaker in the U.S. at that time. He left the House in 1997 to become president of Southeastern State.
In 2007, he succeeded Paul Risser as chancellor, which in Oklahoma’s higher education system is responsible for implementing the policies of the state regents, who act as a coordinating board for the various institutions and their governing boards.
In recent years, Johnson has been involved in leading a task force to restructure and modernize the system. He has also been confronted with deep cuts in state support and stagnant enrollment at most institutions.
“I can’t think of a more fulfilling career than being a public servant,” Johnson said in a press release. “While there remains more than a year before I leave this position, I honestly can say it is a great privilege and honor to serve as Chancellor and work on behalf of the students, faculty, and staff across this great state.”
Parker said Johnson “is a tireless and effective advocate for our system, and his dedication to carrying out his duties and responsibilities across this state and nation is well known and well regarded. In July 2019, he was selected by his system-head colleagues across the nation as the outstanding chancellor in the country. We respect his decision and the fact he is giving the state regents ample time to complete our succession planning process so that we can conduct a comprehensive national search next year for a new chancellor and ensure a smooth leadership transition.”