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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

John Diamond: The University of Arkansas plays loose with personnel rules

Posted By on Tue, Jan 21, 2014 at 6:50 AM

I continue to hear from John Diamond, the former head of university relations at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, with criticism of UA hiring and promotional practices.

I hope to get some university response today to the particulars Diamond has compiled through FOI requests and perusal of the university's information portal on the web. Diamond was fired by Chancellor David Gearhart after disputes on complying with media requests for information at UA, but Gearhart insists he had broader problems with Diamond's work. Diamond first made the charge that Gearhart had ordered documents destroyed, which Gearhart denies, at least insofar as document specifically under FOI request were concerned.

To summarize, Diamond believes he's found 16 cases of hiring or promotions  without posting or proper rules compliance in the University Advancement Division since Chris Wyrick took over for the fired Brad Choate. There was, of course, no formal posting and job search before Wyrick was hired. Diamond calculates that Wyrick, despite heading a division that has yet to erase a spending deficit, gave  raises of greater than 10 percent to 18 people in six months (as high as 32 percent and $46,000 in one case).

Apart from the fact that university rules require posting of jobs (unless waivers are sought) and also require reviews of salary increases for equal opportunity compliance, a lack of job postings and searches means the university might miss the chance to hire better qualified people, Diamond comments.

Diamond's FOI requests also turned up the e-mail below between Barbara Abercrombie, associate vice chancellor for human resources at UA, and Danielle Wood, director of the office of equal opportunity and compliance at UA. It occurred as efforts were being made — after the fact — to determine if background checks had been required for some reclassified employees and if they had been performed. Wood, after seeking advice for UA legal counsel, concluded the checks were necessary. This note, in July of last year, stood out. E-mail doesn't convey humor or satire very effectively. Perhaps it was a joke. But, by July, stuff had been hitting the fan for months about lack of UA transparency. It was no time for gallows humor — at least not in FOIable documents.

click to enlarge Screen_Shot_2014-01-21_at_6.22.42_AM.png


Here's the full e-mail chain Diamond received.
UPDATE: Mark Rushing, a spokesman for UA, responded Tuesday afternoon. He characterized Diamond's allegations as the "latest round of false allegations." In response to two specific cases I mentioned, he asserted the employees' jobs had been posted and their pay reviewed. As for the Abercrombie e-mail:

She said the one sentence response was "a flippant, off-the-cuff comment" made after nearly eight months of FOIA requests. She admitted she was being a bit of a "smart aleck." An Arkansas Democrat Gazette reporter asked her about the same comment last summer.

The University of Arkansas Board of Trustees meets Thursday and Friday amid much speculation about jockeying among members for and against Chancellor Gearhart's leadership. The audit committee of the Board will take up the recent audit of the UA at a meeting that begins at 1 p.m. Thursday. It's my understanding there could be a full discussion then. Or a full board discussion could occur Friday morning when the audit committee formally presents a report on the audits it has reviewed. UAMS audit matters are also on the agenda.

UPDATE: The official agenda has been released. It says the audit committee meets at 3 p.m. and that will be followed by an executive session. I've said previously that any sort of vote relative to Gearhart — pro or con — ought to be accompanied by public discussion, not a resolution hashed out behind closed doors.

ALSO: FROM THE MAILBAG

A copy of a letter to the UA Board arrives from a former student government leader at UA in support of Chancellor Gearhart:

Dear Chair Rogers -

In light of this week's meeting of the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees to discuss the performance of Chancellor G. David Gearhart, I felt compelled to write to you and your distinguished colleagues. Much has been written about the Advancement Division's issues and Chancellor Gearhart's othwerise sterling record. Rather than recount these well-tread topics, I wanted to provide you with a glimpse of my own experience with Dave Gearhart.

As the 2010-2011 Associated Student Government President at the University of Arkansas, I had the privilege of working closely with Chancellor Gearhart and his team. He approached our interactions - and all others to which I bore witness - with candor, integrity, and unrelenting amicability. Throughout my term leading the University of Arkansas's student body - one which dealt with the treatment of undocumented students, the reduction of the University's ecological footprint, and the absence of additional financial support from the General Assembly - Chancellor Gearhart treated me and my fellow students as equal partners, always eager to offer up a seat at the table. In short, Dave Gearhart was an exemplary leader and role model, one who lived the University's motto of "Students First."

Since graduating from the University of Arkansas in May of 2011, my admiration for Dave Gearhart has only grown. In my various experiences as an alumnus - including stints at the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Pennsylvania, and the White House Domestic Policy Council - I have not met an administrator whom I trust or respect more than Chancellor Gearhart.

Though there are many reasons for this, it is Dave's ability to focus on both the institution and the individuals that comprise the Razorback family that sets him apart. During my time as Associated Student Government President, I watched the Chancellor take unpopular positions on subjects ranging from the provision of in-state tuition for undocumented students to the authorization of additional state funding for long-overdue faculty and staff pay raises. As an alumnus, I have been the fortunate recipient of his graciousness, usually in the form of letters of support, all of which were much more compelling and articulate than this one.

In short, the state of Arkansas and its flagship institution are fortunate to have an exemplary leader like Dave Gearhart at the helm. With the issues within Advancement well behind us, I hope this week's meeting will allow the University to move forward, and to get on with the business of empowering our state's residents.

Many thanks for your time and dedication to our state. Take care.


Respectfully,

Billy Fleming |ASLA||APA||AAG|

Doctoral Fellow | University of Pennsylvania | School of Design

B Landscape Arch | University of Arkansas - Fayetteville | Fay Jones School of Architecture
MsCRP | University of Texas - Austin | UT School of Architecture

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