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Graphic design professor Michael O’Keefe fired after 41 years at OC

EDITOR’S NOTE — MARCH 21 3:50 p.m.

On Sunday, March 20, the Oklahoman published a front-page article in which Kevin Jacobs claimed the email to faculty and staff sent by Stephen Eck is factually incorrect. “It misquotes both my client and the guest speaker and puts them in a defamatory and false light,” Jacobs said. View the front page here and visit the Oklahoman archives for the full issue.

On Monday, March 7, Oklahoma Christian University fired tenured graphic design professor Michael O’Keefe. O’Keefe taught at Oklahoma Christian for 41 years.

On March 14, Oklahoma News 4 published a story about O’Keefe’s termination. Their article stated he was “fired for bringing in a speaker who is openly gay.” Since then, the story has been picked up by numerous local and national news outlets, including OKC Fox 25, NBC, the Oklahoman, the New York Daily News and the London Daily Mail.

O’Keefe’s lawyer and former Oklahoma Christian President, Kevin Jacobs, said O’Keefe was allegedly fired after an incident involving a guest speaker in his senior level course, The Business of Branding Yourself.

The speaker, an Oklahoma Christian alum and former adjunct professor of over 20 years, addressed topics including resilience and overcoming obstacles. This speaker is also gay.

According to Jacobs’s statement, O’Keefe was fired for “gross misconduct, conduct contrary to the mission and values of Oklahoma Christian University and disregard of the policies and values of the university.”

Oklahoma Christian alumna and Graphic Design Adjunct Professor, Julia Nored, said two explicit words were used during the presentation; however, witnesses reported the speaker gave a warning before the presentation began.

“It was explained the language was important to the context of the story, but the students were told they could leave if they chose to do so,” Nored said in a Twitter thread posted on March 13.

On March 16, Oklahoma Christian Chief Legal Counsel, Stephen Eck, sent an email to faculty and staff in response to the national media coverage. He said the decision to terminate O’Keefe’s employment was prompted by multiple complaints in response to the incident. Allegedly, the guest speaker used “inappropriate and graphic language of a sexual nature.”

“The unchallenged language and content shared with students is unacceptable in any class at OC, no matter who says it or the speaker’s orientation,” Eck said.

Eck cited further grievances, including that O’Keefe allegedly attempted to discourage students from complaining about the speaker.

“Let me be clear: the university does not terminate employment, nor did we terminate employment, of a professor for inviting a guest speaker to appropriately share a perspective related to course content,” Eck said.

In a statement released to KFOR, Eck said O’Keefe’s employment was terminated after a thorough review process.

“The university will always put first the wellbeing of our students in every decision we make,” Eck said.

On Wednesday, March 9, Chief Academic Officer, Jeff McCormack, led a meeting for all Art and Design students to announce O’Keefe’s termination and answer questions. As of that meeting, no replacement had been hired to pick up O’Keefe’s classes.

Jacobs said O’Keefe is still deciding on a course of legal action.

“My client will be evaluating all the options he has to address this unjustified and wrongful action and then choosing the course that respects not only his rights under the law, but the reputation he has built with his many students, colleagues and friends,” Jacobs said.

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