I’m of a mind that the investigation of financial foulups and the degree of openness at the University of Arkansas under Chancellor David Gearhart’s leadership is pretty well at an end at the legislature, despite some grumbling and even stray talk of requiring election of UA trustees (!).
A prosecutor still will review conflicting accounts of Gearhart’s misleading, if not perjurious legislative testimony about whether he’d ordered destruction of budget documents. He obviously tried to shut down press co-operation by his underlings. And when the UA does release information, it can be misleading. I tend to doubt, however, that there’s criminal fallout from any of this.
But any employee can stand a searching review by his or her superior.
The University of Arkansas Board of Trustees is expected to review the situation when it meets Jan. 23-24 of UAMS.
There are at least some on the board who are unhappy about the UA handling of the matter. And there are some stout supporters of Gearhart (they probably outnumber stout critics.)
The expectation is that current Chair Jane Rogers is working to produce a Board vote of confidence for Gearhart. If the UA Board follows its usual pattern, the discussion might not occur in public. It could occur in a closed personnel session, at the nominally social-only dinner the night before the board meeting or in round-robin communications often used by the board to reach unanimous agreements to deliver for public consumption.
I’m not sure a no-discussion, pre-baked vote is the best way to respond to allegations of secrecy.
But make no mistake. Gearhart has strong supporters on the board. He’s been popular on campus and the UA has many positive benchmarks to cite, including record enrollment. Some Board members believe him to be critical to the $350 million Walton gift a few years ago, an association with a powerful family that they are reluctant to disturb for ongoing reasons. Some of his supporters on the board profess to wonder what all the fuss is about. They say nobody has called THEM to express any concern about what’s going on at UA.
And some, including board members, think politics are at work. Gearhart defenders believes his continued pressure in the legislature comes from people beholden to moneyed interests, including but not limited to the Tyson family. John Tyson resigned from the board a while back following expressed unhappiness about several issues, including athletic emphasis. A family charitable contribution misapplied to the wrong account was also among the deficiencies cited in the legislative audit.
No need for Gearhart’s review to be considered by the Board in a vacuum. Anybody with a thought on the UA situation — its handling of financial matters, its firing of the university spokesman John Diamond, its accountability — should get in touch with UA Board members. Pro or con.
How to be heard? Call or write these Board members:
Jim von Gremp
Side note: Ask the Board about support for the UA Press. Was a recent retirement of the press’ leader related to money? The UA administration has held its annual subsidy at $250,000 for 15 years, despite requests for a subsidy more in keeping with that given other university presses. Staff and expenses have been cut repeatedly for the press to continue to function — admirably, I’d add. Another $150,000 a year — chump change compared to the amount thrown periodically at Athletic Director Jeff Long and much less than that paid your average linebacker coach — would make a big difference. Ask a trustee whether books are as important as linebackers. ….. Wait. Never mind that one.