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Les Wyatt lies low 

No response to questions about former ASU president's business dealings with ASU.

click to enlarge Wyatt: He's not talking.
  • Wyatt: He's not talking.

Dr. J. Leslie Wyatt, former president of Arkansas State University, remained out of touch early this week, unresponsive to efforts by media and, presumably, ASU officials to speak with him about the revelation that Wyatt is president of an on-line educational company that lists ASU as one of its clients. Though no longer president of ASU, Wyatt is still on the university's payroll as a professor of higher education and art at an annual salary of $115,600. ASU professors have suggested that Wyatt has a conflict of interest, though he signed a statement for the university on July1 saying that he did not have "an actual or potential conflict."

Although Wyatt is a high-paid employee of ASU, university officials at Jonesboro say they have no telephone number for him. Dr. Dan Howard, interim chancellor of ASU-Jonesboro, could provide only an e-mail address for Wyatt. Wyatt did not respond to Arkansas Times e-mails.

Howard said that Wyatt is a faculty member on compensated leave, what is known as "sabbatical" at some institutions. "A faculty member on leave doesn't need to remain in touch with the campus," Howard said. "He's treated differently from a regular faculty member or an administrator."

Wyatt lived in Little Rock while he was president of the Arkansas State University System, and he apparently has a home in Dallas. He resigned the presidency June 30 and signed a faculty contract July 1. The ASU Board of Trustees is seeking a new president.

Howard said Wyatt would begin teaching at Jonesboro in the summer semester of 2011.

Howard himself was at the center of controversy recently when it was revealed that he was an unpaid member of the board of trustees of American College of Education, which is owned by Higher Education Holdings LLC, a Dallas-based firm that contracts with ASU to provide online courses and degrees. ASU faculty questioned the propriety of that arrangement also, and Howard resigned from the ACE board, saying he wanted to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest.

Last week, someone saw that the website of American University System of Washington listed Wyatt as president. The news media were informed and began asking questions. Wyatt's name quickly disappeared from the website.

Howard said that ASU had no formal arrangement with American University System, which also is involved in on-line education, and had never paid any money to AUS. Someone at AUS asked if Arkansas State's name could be added to an AUS website as a client, Howard said, and Arkansas State agreed. "It's a mere web listing for us," he said. He said he hadn't known that Wyatt was president of AUS.

In the July 1 statement in which he denied any conflict of interest, Wyatt said that he would be a consultant for Academic Partnerships during the 2010-2011 academic year. "As you [Howard] know, Academic Partnerships is an organization with which Arkansas State University has a contract which was negotiated during my term as president at ASU, before I became a consultant. In the future, I will not have authority for that contract during my time as consultant to Academic Partnerships or as an ASU employee, so I do not see a conflict arising ... "

In the same statement, Wyatt said he would be "working with" the American University System, which he described as a not-for-profit association of U.S. institutions of higher learning that are affiliated with Academic Partnerships, corporations, divisions of government, and Latin American universities. "I will attempt to place the online degree and certificate programs developed by Arkansas State University campuses in both the corporate and the international partners' locations of AUS," Wyatt wrote.

(There are complicated connections between various groups here, and that makes faculty even more curious about what's going on. Some faculty are skeptical of on-line education generally.)

A faculty member told the Times that applications for compensated leave were supposed to go before a faculty committee, but that no application from Wyatt did so. A spokesman for Howard said that authorization for Wyatt's compensated leave was given by the chancellor acting alone "because of Dr. Wyatt's appointment to president emeritus status." The employment contract signed by Wyatt and Howard does not specifically mention "compensated leave." It says: "For the first six months of this contract, your duties shall be set by the Chancellor of Arkansas State University-Jonesboro and may include campus assignments in regular and/or extended day classes, off-campus assignments, other campus assignments, and/or a combination of any of these. For the second six months of this contract, you shall prepare to re-enter the classroom and to re-establish teaching materials ... "

Records supplied by Howard include a June 18 policy statement concerning the benefits received by a president emeritus. Those include "Two tickets at the available location of choice to all home intercollegiate football and basketball games," and "Office space and secretarial assistance, including stationery, note cards, postage, telephone and computer usage, on both the Jonesboro campus and at the Little Rock office."

Evidently Wyatt has chosen not to take advantage of all the benefits.

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