Students and staff members said goodbye to Southeastern Oklahoma State University President Sean Burrage last week at a farewell reception in the Sidewalk Café.

The University of Oklahoma announced the hiring of Burrage as its vice president for executive affairs last month. The Regional University System of Oklahoma then appointed Bryon Clark interim president of Southeastern Oklahoma State University following the resignation of Burrage. Clark, who was serving as vice president for academic affairs at Southeastern, assumed his interim duties on Oct. 12.

The university and the Faculty Senate presented Burrage with plaques of appreciation during the farewell reception. Under his leadership, Southeastern achieved record enrollment — 4,824 students this fall — and financial stability.

Records indicate this fall’s numbers are the highest enrollment since the school opened its doors in 1909. It also represents a 7.6% increase over last fall’s enrollment.

In his new position, Burrage will be responsible for leading, directing, delegating or assisting with strategic projects, including matters involving university officials, community and government leaders, an OU press release explained.

“This was a very difficult decision, as the past five years at Southeastern have been the most professionally gratifying years of my life,” Burrage said in a prepared statement emailed to the Bryan County News. “At the same time, I felt like this (OU position) was a professional career opportunity that I could not afford to pass up. I will be returning to OU where I have roots — I not only graduated there, but worked previously in the President’s Office.”

In his five years as president of Southeastern, the university reached record enrollment figures and doubled annual giving.

“Southeastern is positioned on a path to continued success, with record enrollment this fall, while experiencing financial stability,” Burrage said in his statement. “What we accomplished at the University over the past five years was made possible only by the tremendous support of our faculty, staff, students, community, and the Board of Regents of the Regional University System of Oklahoma. For that, I am most appreciative.’’

In 2015, Burrage was appointed to the Governor’s Education Advisory Committee, and in 2017, he was named to the State Regents’ Task Force on the Future of Higher Education. As a two-term Oklahoma state senator, Burrage built a reputation as a strategic and fair-minded statesman.

“Mr. Burrage has tremendous character and intellect,” search committee member and former Oklahoma State Sen. Glenn Coffee said in the OU press release. “Even though we often found ourselves on opposite sides of issues during our time together in the State Senate, I have seen firsthand how skilled he is at strategy. He’ll be a superb addition to the University’s executive team.”

Clark has been associated with Southeastern since 1990, serving in various capacities, including the past three years in his most recent position. Prior to beginning his administrative career, Clark taught biology for 15 years.

The RUSO Board of Regents will form a search committee for a new president at Southeastern.