Saturday, December 15, 2012

Morning comments: School shooting and the UA

Posted By on Sat, Dec 15, 2012 at 6:38 AM

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SLAUGHTER OF THE INNOCENTS: More than three pages of coverage and commentary in the New York Times of the Connecticut school shootings and this reader is still left curiously empty. There is in all of it no explanation, nor could there be, for the inexplicable. The assassination of children by a man packing handguns and a semi-automatic assault rifle does, inevitably, lift this beyond previous mass shootings. Even if the particular episode will never be satifsfactorily understood, it should be a time to examine all related larger issues - guns, detection and treatment of mental illness, security in schools. To say it is not the time to talk about these things is, again, a political statement of its own. It's one that people of reason should soundly reject and recognize as an affront to the recent, past and future innocent victims.

UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS BOOKKEEPING: The morning newspaper (pay wall) includes lots from UA Chancellor David Gearhart in defense of his decision not to fire the people responsible for ongoing deficit spending in the millions of dollars in the fund-raising arm of the university. He explained his thinking to legislators and also in an op-ed excoriating the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette editorial page for its harsh comments on the topic. I'm more sympathetic to his explanation of demoting but retaining a lower level budget official with a long and generally meritorious record. She was doing what the boss man, Brad Choate, ordered after all. The $350,000-a-year bossman essentially was given a severance period and is headed for the door in June, if not immediately. Gearhart justifies this in part because of Choate's ongoing contacts with moneybags on whom the university depends in its fund-raising. Here, I'm less sympathetic. The UA has shown entirely too much deference to moneybags before and it does so again here. I've written before about how the university has traded off obedience to the Freedom of Information Act in return for money from wealthy contributors, particularly the Walton family. it has sold divisions of the university to the ideological aims of these same contributors. It is not surprising that keeping them happy is cited as a reason for continuing the employment of a person who busted a budget in a way that wouldn't be tolerated in private business. A letter to the editor from Gwen Moritz of Arkansas Business also helpfully points out a bit of disingenuousness in Gearhart's claim of total transparency in revealing the situation. In fact, his first public statement followed revelation of the overspending by Chris Bahn of Arkansas Business, an important fact missing from Democrat-Gazette accounts to date. Still missing in the ongoing episode is a specific, detailed accounting of how the advancement division spent $13 million in a year. "Fund-raising" is not enough explanation. Nor is it enough for Gearhart to say simply that the money didn't go to illegal uses, such as self-enrichment. The judgment of the official who did this overspending is worthy of deeper review of the details. It's not a new sidewalk at UCA, I know, but still seems worthy of peeling off a few more onion layers. I've asked for the record.

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