The recent appointment of a 14-person selection committee begins the official process of choosing a new president at Cameron University to replace the retiring Dr. Cindy Ross this summer.
The committee will gather names and recommend candidates to the state Board of Regents which oversees Cameron, the University of Oklahoma and Rogers State University and has ultimate authority over who will be the next president.
No doubt many will express interest in the position.
Under the leadership of Dr. Ross, the 6,000-student Lawton-based university with a 600-student branch in Duncan, has blossomed, earning its rightful place among institutions of higher learning in our state and region, even claiming national recognition for its quality curriculum and affordability.
It has become a remarkable asset for southwest Oklahoma.
Its next leader must be a visionary capable of carrying on the legacy of Dr. Ross; of advancing further the mission of the university; of understanding the region and its people; of realizing the need for a diverse and challenging curriculum that prepares students for an ever-changing workplace; of recognizing the significance of legislative support and personal involvement; of identifying ways to aggressively seek funding at the levels necessary to recruit and retain the brightest and best students and faculty, to continue expansion and embellishment of a beautiful campus and to provide all physical and technological tools required for students to succeed; and of knowing the importance of becoming the positive face of Cameron.
Jari Askins is such a person.
She is a daughter of southwest Oklahoma. Her background, her skills, her experience, her commitment to the area, her personal and political connections, her energy, her integrity and her successes uniquely qualify her for consideration.
She would be an excellent president at Cameron University.
A native of Duncan who was educated in Duncan public schools and learned much about community service through the example set by her parents, the late Ollie and Jarita Askins, she is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma and holds the same Juris Doctorate degree attained by OU President David Boren and OSU President Burns Hargis.
She has been a public servant throughout her impressive career, serving in all three branches of government, working often with college students and universities, stressing the importance of community and economic development and building relationships.
For eight years, Askins was a special district judge in the District Court of Stephens County before being appointed to the state Pardon and Parole Board where she became its chairman and executive director. She was later named deputy general counsel to the governor.
She served a term-limited 12 years representing southwest Oklahoma in the state House of Representatives, playing a key role in the creation of Duncan’s Cameron branch and earning distinction as a legislative leader.
She was elected lieutenant governor, served as president of the state Senate, chaired the state Tourism and Recreation Commission and logged hours supporting education issues at all levels.
Her run for governor finished second, but likely cemented her reputation more strongly statewide and certainly in the southwest counties of Comanche, Stephens, Cotton, Jefferson, Caddo, Jackson, Kiowa and Tillman where her interests and support never waivered.
She is currently associate provost for external relations at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, performing many of the duties for which a college president would be responsible.
As an experienced leader, she likely has few peers. She knows Oklahoma. It knows her. And there is a mutual respect.
Askins is a good thinker, a good organizer and a good planner. She is a focused manager who recognizes and uses the talents of others. She is personable, outgoing and a willing listener. She is an articulate communicator and an effective motivator. She is a consensus builder who recognizes “we” “us” and “our” as words of significance.
She values a quality education, not just for what it does for the student, but for what it collectively does for the community. And she believes a college or university should be the hub of job creation and economic stability.
She has seen Cameron University grow into an institution of much prestige and accomplishment, meeting impressively its mission. Her appreciation is deep for those who made it possible. Her interests are to be part of its future, to maintain its momentum and to expand wider its success.
The decision to select a new president at Cameron is an important one, important for the school, for the community, for the area and for the state.
Jari Askins’ abilities, skills, enthusiasm and interest match well the needs.
She is a sound choice as its next leader.
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