Outlook 2013: University of Central Oklahoma president has high expectations for state’s oldest institution of higher learning

Don Betz, the president of the University of Central Oklahoma, has high expectations for the state’s oldest institution of higher education.

by Bryan Painter Published: April 28, 2013
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“Our role is to be in and of this community — and, by that community, I mean Edmond, Oklahoma City, the metro and the state. We are here to offer educational opportunities and to help set horizons, to help individuals conceptualize what their goals and opportunities and dreams are, to realize those and then to give back.”

Expectations and encouragement

Betz, who served as Central’s provost and vice president of Academic Affairs from 1999 to 2005, became the university’s 20th president in August 2011.

In addition to the many academic positions he has held, Betz worked for and with the United Nations on Middle East issues from 1982 through 2003.

In all experiences, Betz said it’s important to combine high expectations with encouragement. He goes back to his teens and offers Maury Sheridan, his high school debate, public speaking and theater coach, as an example of this.

“He was a man who was very high energy and very demanding, but he always combined challenges with encouragement,” Betz said. “I was a very good student and got a very low grade once on an essay. I remember this vividly. We wrote by hand, you didn’t type it. He handed it back to me with a grade lower than I had ever received in my life and at the top it said, ‘The content of this essay is worthy of a college student. The penmanship of this essay is not worthy of a kindergartner.’”

Betz, who is left-handed, said he spent the next six to eight months practicing to write another way and his penmanship improved. The instructor wasn’t trying to thwart success, he was attempting to add to it, Betz said.

“I essentially had a flawless academic record until then,” Betz said, “but it was a very good message, and it was not just about the writing. He moved me to make a change that I needed to make and at the same time encouraged me by talking about the quality of what I had written.

“The power of encouragement continues to amaze me how you can help others and others can help you by the right word and the right act and the right gesture at the right time. I think ultimately it was the demonstration of qualities of character of others that have had the lasting impact on me in terms of the expectations I have of myself and then what we try to do together as a university community.”

Encouragement is not only beneficial in the present but in building vision, Betz said.

“The key here is encouraging people to give back so that you become the roots of the new community that grow up,” he said. “Twenty years from now, the key decision-makers in Oklahoma, in the metro and at this university likely will have changed, they will be different people. Still, learning is a lifelong opportunity and we’re creating that for someone else like those who started this university more than 100 years ago did for us.”

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by Bryan Painter
Assistant Local Editor
Bryan Painter, assistant local editor, has 31 years’ experience in journalism, including 22 years with the state's largest newspaper, The Oklahoman. In that time he has covered such events as the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah...
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