Favorite

State university secrets 

Today's subject: lack of accountability at state universities.

Today's subject: lack of accountability at state universities.

It's not a new complaint. Years ago, the University of Arkansas refused to reveal what promises it made to get a $300 million gift from the Walton family. Part of the deal, it seems clear, was the university unit that serves as a propaganda mill for the Waltons' "school reform" agenda.

Fundraising for UA, and particularly for athletics, has long been conducted behind the shroud of private foundations, which claim exemption from the state Freedom of Information Act. Recent events provide further illustration.

The University of Arkansas says it has a donor interested in underwriting research in cyberterrorism. The UA won't reveal the donor or what strings might be attached to the gift. What could be wrong with researching cyberterrorism? Maybe nothing. But it also might be a pretext to get university support for a project that aids private business or even for some controversial type of research. The university promises any proposal would be reviewed, including by the university board of trustees. That's not an automatic comfort. The UA board is a highly political group, now firmly in the control of a rigidly ideological governor.

The secrecy can get silly. The UA refused, for example, to give me a guest list to its recent $450,000 gala to begin a billion-dollar-fundraising campaign. Then it allowed a reporter for the state's largest newspaper to attend the event and she produced a society page spread with photos of the people the UA wouldn't identify for me.

The UA cited, as it always does, an irrelevant bit of state law — passed to protect private business records in the hands of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. It exempts from disclosure information that would "give advantage to competitors or bidders." UA contends even revealing the name of donors would harm the university's ability to compete for gifts and would disclose "craft knowledge developed by the university." What? The menu?

The erosion of accountability at universities isn't restricted to UA. There's also the University of Central Arkansas. I've been interested recently in the high profile being established by a unit of UCA known as the Arkansas Center for Research in Economics. It is purely ideological and stocked with academics schooled at Koch-favored institutions. Its founding documents indicate it was established to address a "paternalistic, over-regulated, expansive tax-and-transfer expenditure state."

When I asked UCA President Tom Courtway about it, he defended a free discussion of all views. But that free discussion doesn't include disclosure of the ideologues who've provided the money to operate the unit. The contributions are passed through the UCA Foundation — providing donors with both a tax deduction and secrecy. People on campus know who they are. They just won't say. The head of the center claims all are Arkansas business people, though Koch footprints are evident in emails I've seen.

This is a bad way to run a university. Some universities — very rich ones mostly — won't accept gifts with too many strings. But, at a minimum, the agenda-setters should be exposed to sunlight. At least the Walton name is plastered all over its propaganda unit in Fayetteville.

This is important. These hobby horses of the wealthy carry the brand of a university and whatever honor that might attach when the hired hands write op-eds and testify before the legislature and state agencies, such as the state Board of Education. Of course they are entitled to their opinions. But Courtway's defense of the open forum is a little disingenuous, given the absence of a Daddy Warbucks for countervailing views at UA or UCA.

I'm biting a hand at UCA that actually feeds a hobby horse of my own: corporate welfare. The center has produced a steady stream criticism of passing out tax money to private businesses in the name of economic development. Yes, even people who agree with me should be held accountable.

Favorite

Speaking of...

Comments (2)

Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

Readers also liked…

  • Hutchinson pulls Faubus move

    I don't know what if anything might arise or be planned in the future relative to Gov. Asa Hutchinson's order to end Medicaid reimbursement for medical services (not abortion) provided by Planned Parenthood in Arkansas.
    • Aug 20, 2015
  • Neighborliness, in Little Rock and beyond

    I had a parochial topic in mind this week — a surprise plan by Mayor Mark Stodola to address the Arkansas Arts Center's many needs.
    • Nov 19, 2015
  • Bootstraps for me, not thee

    Mean spirit, hypocrisy and misinformation abound among the rump minority threatening to wreck state government rather than allow passage of the state Medicaid appropriation if it continues to include the Obamacare-funded expansion of health insurance coverage for working poor.
    • Apr 14, 2016

Most Shared

Latest in Max Brantley

  • Don't cry for Robert E. Lee

    Congratulations are in order for Governor Hutchinson. He decided this year to devote the weight of his office to end the state's embarrassing dual holiday for slavery defender Robert E. Lee and civil rights hero Martin Luther King Jr.
    • Mar 23, 2017
  • City Board discovers LRSD

    An article in Sunday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reminded me of John Belushi in "Animal House" exhorting frat brothers to rally against a dean's effort to put them out of business. "Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?"
    • Mar 16, 2017
  • Supremely disappointing

    The Arkansas Supreme Court last week delivered a blow to civil rights in Arkansas. It was another results-oriented decision that gives a clue to how far the justices likely will go to appease the legislature.
    • Mar 2, 2017
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

Forest bathing is the Next Big Thing

Forest bathing is the Next Big Thing

Arkansas is the perfect place to try out this new health trend. Read all about the what, why, where and how here.

Event Calendar

« »

March

S M T W T F S
  1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30 31  

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: More on pits

    • Yes, here are many "people who shouldn't be allowed near a dog." Fine. But that…

    • on March 26, 2017
  • Re: More on pits

    • "the breed's propensity for unprovoked and deadly attacks on animals and people" This is nonsense…

    • on March 26, 2017
  • Re: More on pits

    • Well, for heaven's sake.

    • on March 26, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation