Education has been a cornerstone of Dr. John Feaver’s life for more than half a century. The Norman native has devoted himself to fostering inquisitiveness, creativity and critical thinking in students for more than 20 years as president of the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma (USAO). He served as faculty for another two decades before that, teaching political science and history, along with 12 years as vice president for academic affairs at Oklahoma’s only public liberal arts college.
Besides his leadership in higher education, which earned him an induction into the Oklahoma Higher Education Hall of Fame in 2012, Dr. Feaver is a past board chair of the Oklahoma Academy for State Goals. Today he sits on the statewide Boards of Directors of Creative Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Academy, Oklahoma Policy Institute, Oklahoma Higher Education Heritage Society and our own Oklahoma Arts Institute Foundation.
We talked to Dr. Feaver in advance of OSAI 2021 at USAO in Chickasha about his background as an educator, his relationship to OAI and his hopes for the Summer Institute.
Could you introduce yourself to readers and talk a little about your background?
Well, I was born in a log cabin … [laughs]. I don't think you want that much of a biographical statement! I grew up in Norman. I went to Norman High School and OU for my undergraduate and graduate work. I did a stint in the military before I came back to do doctoral work and then came [to USAO], having taught as faculty at OSU for several years in the late ‘70s. I came over here in 1980 and taught in the American history areas of political science. Then I moved into the administrative side of things in the late 1980s and was the Vice President for Academic Affairs, until they threw me into the presidency in the summer of 2000.
Will you talk a little about the mission of the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and what makes it unique among higher education institutions in the state?
Of course. It was the first college created in the first session of the first legislature in 1908. It was originally created as a college exclusively for women, and remained the Oklahoma College for Women until 1965 when it changed to co-educational status. It has historically served a distinguishable student population, matching a particular kind of education to a particular kind of student group. When it became co-educational in 1965, they used that historic DNA to assign a mission to it as being Oklahoma's public liberal arts college — again designed to match a particular kind of student to a particular kind of undergraduate curriculum. As the Oklahoma College for Women, even back in the 1920s after about 10 years of operating, it was already known as a liberal arts college for women.
It’s not a two-year college. It’s not a comprehensive institution, as in the case of the regionals. It does not have a graduate program and focuses on the Baccalaureate degree. Students who enroll here must take the general core beginning in their freshman year, extending through until their senior year — and the core is designed to operate in an interdisciplinary fashion, especially to facilitate a discussion between the sciences on the one hand and the arts on the other.
You have the sciences that are interested in technology and technology development, and that leads to the economic development side of things, but the arts are really the responsibility of discussing the issue of why we do things and where we need to be headed as human beings in society. So, in fostering a discussion between science and arts, we're fostering a very necessary discussion that we need going forward — not merely in terms of encouraging technology and economic development, but also encouraging a discussion of how we use it, why we use it, and for what purposes.
In your estimation, what makes USAO a fitting temporary home for the Summer Arts Institute?
Let’s put it this way: If it is that the college is interested in the educational enterprise of discussing the metaphysical world, discussing the question of aesthetics in the theoretical realm, those would be more on the science/empirical side of things, but not entirely. Then the question becomes about how you translate the whole question of aesthetics — what is beauty? — into physical forms, to allow people to appreciate aesthetics either in the visual, performing or literary arts.
I think those are the kinds of things which obviously the Oklahoma Arts Institute is extremely concerned with, in terms of matching up these bright young artists in the performing, visual and literary arts with top-flight educators (or trainers, if you will) as to how they might facilitate their creative juices and interpretation of aesthetics in physical ways. We’re interested in that in this institution, which I think is utterly compatible with the mission and the purposes of the Oklahoma Arts Institute.
Can you tell readers a little about your longtime relationship with OAI?
Well, I've been on the board — in fact I was on the board when Julie [Cohen] first became the head of the operation. In my early-going tenure with the organization, she and I walked around the Capitol together to talk with legislators about the Arts Institute. I've been on the Oklahoma Arts Institute Board and now subsequently on the Oklahoma Arts Institute Foundation Board. So, we've been affiliated for many years.
What’s your parting message for OSAI 2021 attendees?
First of all, I fully understand the long affiliation of the Oklahoma Arts Institute with Quartz Mountain. If I could, I would build a lake and some mountains for the kids’ benefit of ambience [laughs]. But I think the campus and the facilities are of the size and scope, and have a nature that I think will lend itself to the kinds of things that are going on with the Summer Institute. It’s going to be different in terms of the Quartz Mountain connection, but I think the Summer Institute will find an environment that is inviting and favorable. I think everyone will find a comfortable environment in which to operate.
Again, we're talking in terms of a couple of institutions that have utterly compatible missions — that have, in fact, highly interactive missions and purposes. And in that regard, you're going to find that it's a very sympathetic environment from the standpoint of the administration and the faculty. I'll just tell you right now, our faculty is just out of our minds at the prospect of having the Arts Institute come here in the summer to utilize the campus which they have great affection for. There’s not even a murmur of wondering about whether or not this can be an extraordinary benefit both to the Arts Institute and to Science and Arts on our campus here this summer.