UA's corporate culture 

You'd think that the University of Arkansas was a privately held family corporation. The Fayetteville campus is secretive, defensive and unfriendly to those who think the UA has broader responsibilities.

See: John Diamond. He was the associate vice chancellor of university relations. He was fired by the new vice chancellor for advancement, Chris Wyrick.

Diamond said he fell out of favor because he supported transparency, particularly in answering questions about the multi-million-dollar budget shortfall in the advancement division under the former leadership of Brad Choate.

Wyrick said Diamond had become insubordinate, not a team player. Team playing apparently means shutting up about the busted budget. Chancellor David Gearhart had grown weary of inquiries about the matter from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He wanted Diamond to put a sock in it. Diamond thought it was bad public relations policy to go mute on press inquiries (particularly when the questions came from the state's largest news medium). Gearhart should have followed that advice in his ill-considered op-ed personal blast at the newspaper.

Wyrick came from the UA Athletic Department. Secrets are a matter of official policy there. The department is heavily funded by contributions to the tax-exempt Razorback Foundation in the form of mandatory charges on game tickets. The coordination between public and private agencies should mean Foundation matters are open to the public. They are not.

The university has a similar relationship with the separate foundation that raises money for general university purposes. And, it figures in the Diamond affair. Gearhart once was the university's chief fund-raiser. Tradition was that the advancement division spent what was necessary to raise money and any additional expenses were covered by the private foundation. Sometime last year, the foundation stopped providing blanket overdraft protection for Brad Choate's division.

A legislative audit to be released next week might provide some insight on the policy change. One account is that the foundation's own auditors said the foundation could no longer just write blank checks in support of operations. The audit may also get into the details of the onset of problems. Coincidentally, trouble began when a fund to pay deferred compensation to Chancellor Gearhart came up short. As money was transferred among accounts to keep bill collectors happy, was the payment to the chancellor near the top of the list of IOUs cleared?

Chris Wyrick is entitled to his own team, as Gearhart has said. He and Diamond might have proved an odd couple. But the UA hierarchy's effort to demonize the mild-mannered Diamond as an irrational madman isn't well-supported by evidence. Wyrick, a big and boisterous ex-jock, is more intimidating. He's so sure of himself that he made silly racial and religious references about staff members, including Diamond, a Catholic, without a thought about how they might be received.

Wyrick showed himself, too, when the Bobby Petrino scandal broke and he was a top hand in the Athletic Department. After Petrino was forced to admit he'd lied about his initial account of a motorcycle wreck, Wyrick texted the coach with promises of support and a helpful PR strategy. Wyrick insists those texts came before all was known about Petrino's influence on hiring a girlfriend. He said he supported Athletic Director Jeff Long in Petrino's firing and insists he praised Diamond for crisis PR management, including crafting the widely praised speech by Long defending the firing.

Some think Diamond's role in the Petrino matter was the beginning of his problem. There, too, he favored transparency. Particularly in athletics, it is not a trait for which UA has been known. The university resists FOI requests, it keeps secret about finances and, now, it has fired a high official who found secrecy a poor policy. And they want the public to think Diamond is the bad guy.


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