Allison D. Garrett graduated from The University of Tulsa College of Law in 1987 with a Juris Doctor degree. Since then, she has gained a wealth of experience in the corporate and post-secondary worlds, including as a vice president and general counsel with Walmart and, from 2016 to 2021, president of Emporia State University.
In fall 2021, Garrett was appointed chancellor by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education (OSRHE) after a nationwide search for someone to fill this influential leadership role. Garrett, the first woman to serve as chancellor, leads the state system’s 25 public colleges and universities and is responsible for a budget over $2.8 billion. When Garrett was chosen, Gov. Kevin Stitt commented, “I am confident that she can help us grow in Oklahoma. Her background and experience are perfect to lead a new era in our higher education system.”
At TU Law, we were thrilled to learn of our alumna’s career success and honored that she shared with us thoughts on matters ranging from her vision for Oklahoma public higher education and her job as chancellor to memories of her law school days and the impact her TU education has had on her professional journey.
What are the main goals, challenges and opportunities facing higher education in Oklahoma and its public post-secondary institutions?
Higher education in Oklahoma has two major objectives: workforce development and creating hope and a path to a better life for Oklahoma’s citizens.
Among the biggest challenges facing Oklahoma’s public institutions, and likely its private institutions, are financial challenges. In Oklahoma, we have the dubious distinction of being the system with the highest cuts in the nation from 2010 to 2020.
Advocating for higher education to be viewed not as an expense but as an investment is key. I plan to work closely with many across our system to develop or expand programs in some of the highest need areas.
As chancellor, what is your role in helping our public colleges and universities overcome those challenges and seize those opportunities?
The OSRHE is a coordinating board rather than a governing board. We set policy, engage in strategic planning and advocate for education in the State of Oklahoma. We also administer many programs, including Oklahoma’s nationally recognized Promise program, which enables high school students from lower-income families to earn a college tuition scholarship.
As chancellor, I will be working with our 25 institutions, the Regents, the terrific team in OSRHE and the Oklahoma Legislature to assure that higher education serves the State of Oklahoma well by creating an educated and engaged workforce that meets our state’s needs.
As president of Emporia State University, what lessons did you learn that will be helpful in your new position?
My experiences at a public university helped me understand the daily challenges faced by students, faculty and staff at our higher-education institutions. Being president also gave me a front-row seat to the transformative impact of education. Every year at commencement, I loved hearing families cheer for their loved ones. For first-generation students, graduating from college is a huge achievement for the entire family and will have a multi-generational impact on that family.
In addition to your experience in academia, you have held senior roles in the corporate world. What knowledge and skills did those years give you that will be valuable for your work as chancellor?
Many skills from the corporate world are directly transferrable to higher education. As someone hiring many employees, for example, I learned firsthand the importance of workforce development. My vice president roles at Walmart gave me a seat at the table for many discussions that were like an on-the-job MBA.
In my work as an advocate for our system of higher education, it’s crucial that we share stories of how higher education transforms lives and also that we have data to back up what we do and say. The policy-drafting work in a large company is also similar to some of the work in the role of chancellor.
You earned a Juris Doctor from TU Law. Looking back on your time here, what were some of the memorable highlights?
Because I was young when I started at the College of Law, my classmates thought it was funny when local law firms had cocktail receptions for new law students. I’m sure that the law firms didn’t realize they were offering liquor to a minor! (For the record, though, it wasn’t an issue because I don’t drink.)
I also had some wonderful professors at TU Law. I remember Marty Frey and Rex Zedalis with great fondness and I particularly enjoyed their classes.
My experience on the Tulsa Law Review was incredibly helpful in developing my writing abilities. Our editor in chief was a journalism major; she was a very helpful reviewer and critic of our work. I learned so much from her!
How did your legal education help to prepare you for success in both the corporate and higher education spheres?
Being a great attorney or an executive often involves many of the same skills. Knowing what questions to ask, doggedly pursuing answers, treating people with respect and thinking about all of the “what ifs” are important skills in both the legal profession and in executive roles, whether in higher education or the corporate world.
What would you like our readers to know about you beyond your professional history and current role as chancellor?
My husband Chip and I got married just a few months after I graduated from TU Law. Not long after that, we moved to Washington, DC, where I worked for the Securities and Exchange Commission and he worked for the Department of Justice.
Chip and I have three grown children — Ethan, Tori and Noah. The oldest two live near us in Edmond. Our granddaughter Charlotte is also in Edmond.
Outside of work and family life, I’m happiest when I’m out on the golf course. I don’t play golf particularly well, but I love it!
University of Tulsa College of Law alumni like Allison Garrett leverage the skills and knowledge they gained during their Juris Doctor studies to build fascinating, impactful careers in both the private and public sectors. Discover whether a high-quality legal education at TU Law is your portal to success.