TULSA — Univeristy of Tulsa alumni hope two high-profile firings this fall were a fluke and that the private school learns from recent troubles.
President Steadman Upham fired Athletic Director Ross Parmley on Tuesday after Parmley was linked to a federal gambling investigation in Oklahoma City less than 11 months into his tenure. Upham’s predecessor, Geoffrey Orsak, was fired in September after 74 days on the job.
“I was shocked because (athletic director) is a very high profile job and especially with the stuff that happened to our president, you would have thought they would have done a better job vetting him,” said alumnus Nick Cooper.
Parmley, hired in January, was mentioned in an affidavit filed in support of an indictment against alleged Oklahoma City bookie Teddy Mitchell. Mitchell faces trial in April. Parmley has not been charged.
In September, Tulsa fired Orsak as president after less than three months on the job — and one day after granting him a leave of absence to tend to his ill father. The school released a two-sentence statement the day of the firing but has not offered any reason for letting him go.
Orsak had replaced Upham when he retired June 30. Duane Wilson, the chairman of the private school’s board of trustees, called Orsak’s firing “unavoidable” and Upham, who had led the school since 2004, agreed to return to the school on a temporary basis.
Alumnus Matt Elliott said it was “strange” to see the turmoil his school has been through lately because “it’s always been such a quiet and stable place.” The school of more than 4,000 students that costs around $31,000 in tuition is used to occupying the spotlight because of its high academic standards, not internal strife.
“I think once things blow over with this athletics deal, it will get back to being a quiet place,” he said. “I feel like that the recent deal with the former president was a fluke, but who knows? So little information has been released about that.
“The unfortunate thing is what’s happened, I think, could threaten to overshadow in the public’s mind the fact that TU has always been an excellent university,” Elliott said.
University of Tulsa spokeswoman Kayla Acebo had no comment Thursday on either of the two scandals, and said the school was focused instead on its academics, final exams and the football team’s Dec. 31 appearance in the Liberty Bowl vs. Iowa State after posting a 10-3 record.
The university says it is cooperating with the NCAA in its gambling probe. The NCAA prohibits athletic department employees from betting on amateur, collegiate or professional sports in which it conducts championships, saying gambling can undermine the integrity of its games.
Alumnus Christopher Lastrapes said he wants the school to take its recent struggles as “a learning opportunity” and seek additional help as it moves forward.
“I see all alumni as stakeholders who are invested in the future of the university,” he said. “We’re also the fans that show up on game day. As alumni, we know the academic success of our school has a bright future. As sports fans, we want to know our athletic programs have a future just as bright.”