First woman selected as chief of Oklahoma higher education –

For the first time in state history, Oklahoma will have a woman as its higher education executive. 
Allison Garrett, the president of Emporia State University, will succeed longtime Chancellor Glen D. Johnson as the head of the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education. 
The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education unanimously approved Garrett’s hiring Friday. She will earn a base salary of $415,000 with additional insurance benefits and a $1,200 wellness benefit.
Johnson, 67, has been chancellor since 2007. He will retire Nov. 8, the day Garrett takes office after leaving Emporia State.
“What makes me extremely excited about this job is the opportunity to influence the number of students (attending college), what their majors are, work with the college presidents of the different universities and create a robust workforce,” Garrett said. “We know that the business economy in the state of Oklahoma needs that workforce.”
The nine-member board of regents administers funds, sets academic standards and determines courses of study for all 25 public colleges and universities in Oklahoma. The chancellor acts as the chief executive officer for the state’s public higher education system. 
Johnson originally planned to retire at the end of 2020 but postponed his departure when the COVID-19 pandemic “dramatically altered” the regents’ ability to find a successor, the board said. 
The regents resumed their national search for a chancellor in March.
After narrowing the pool of candidates to four for interviews, Garrett rose to the top because of her experience in both the corporate world and university leadership.
Garrett was a vice president and general counsel at Walmart for 10 years before entering academia. 
Emporia State, based in Emporia, Kansas, hired Garrett as president in 2016. Previously, she was a senior administrator for nearly four years at Abilene Christian University and for five years at Oklahoma Christian University, her alma mater.  
Regents’ Chairperson Jeffrey Hickman said the governor advised the board to “do a national search and find the best person.”
“We have done a national search, and I believe we have found the best person in Allison Garrett,” Hickman said.
Johnson’s retirement comes more than two years after Gov. Kevin Stitt called for him to be replaced. The governor privately asked Johnson to resign in July 2019 before publicly urging him to do so a month later.  
Stitt said Oklahoma needed a “fresh set of eyes” on higher education. 
“The fact of the matter is, the chancellor has been there for 12 years — he’s been in government for over 37 years — and I just don’t think we’re performing like we should,” Stitt said in August 2019. 
The regents were “very pleased” with Johnson’s leadership, then-chairperson Jody Parker said at the time.  
Stitt said Garrett will do a “fantastic job.” The governor, a business owner before running for office, commended Garrett’s work as a Walmart executive before becoming a university administrator.
“I am confident that she can help us grow in Oklahoma,” Stitt said. “Her background and experience are perfect to lead a new era in our higher education system.”
A native of Neosho, Missouri, Garrett earned a bachelor’s degree in English at Oklahoma Christian, a law degree at the University of Tulsa and a master of laws in securities regulation from Georgetown University. 
Emporia State set records for highest retention rates, highest four- and six-year graduation rates and largest graduating classes while Garrett was president.  
Multiple university presidents attended Garrett’s inaugural press conference Friday, including University of Oklahoma President Joseph Harroz Jr. and Dr. Kayse Shrum, president of Oklahoma State University.
Shrum became the first woman to lead OSU — and any research institution in Oklahoma — when she took office July 1.
Shrum said Garrett will “accomplish great things.”
“I’m excited about her appointment and obviously excited about her qualifications,” Shrum said. “I was very fortunate to have those opportunities to be in a position to apply for my job, and obviously she is well qualified for hers. I just look forward to what’s she’s going to bring to the role as chancellor.”
Reporter Nuria Martinez-Keel covers K-12 and higher education throughout the state of Oklahoma. Have a story idea for Nuria? She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @NuriaMKeel. Support Nuria’s work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today at