Reed, Oldham in mix for University of Arkansas presidency | Arkansas Blog

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Reed, Oldham in mix for University of Arkansas presidency

Posted By on Sun, Mar 27, 2011 at 7:32 PM

STANLEY REED: In the mix again for UA president.
  • STANLEY REED: In the mix again for UA president.
University of Arkansas Trustee John Ed Anthony told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette the other day that two Arkansas business leaders and two academicians from out-of-state were interested in succeeding the retiring B. Alan Sugg as president of the University of Arkansas System.

He revealed no names. Let me.

The two Arkansas business leaders are both former UA trustees, Stanley Reed, the Marianna farmer and Farm Bureau leader who briefly toyed with a run for Senate as a Republican in 2010 and Frank Oldham, a Jonesboro banker.

I can't name the academic contenders. But, this being Arkansas, it would be a dramatic departure to choose someone qualified for the job over a member of the Good Old Arkansas Boys Club. Some on the Board of Trustees still hope for a pure higher ed leader who could aggressively run the system, rather than serve as a figurehead.

We've been down this road before. Sugg was lobbying hard to push a pre-emptive deal to get his Delta friend Reed tabbed ahead of time as his successor. But that blew up because of resistance on the Board of Trustees. Sugg is stilll pushing for Reed.

Reed appears to be the favorite of the in-state candidates. By all accounts a smart man with a UA law degree and a successful agribusiness, Reed brings interesting background to the table. He's a devoted conservative Christian — a Jewish classmate recalls Reed's persistent efforts in UA days to convert him to Christianity. The Farm Bureau under his leadership vigorously fought animal cruelty legislation and was a leading supporter of initiatives to discriminate against gay people in marriage and adoption. The latter has some relevance because of the UA's expressed friendliness toward recognition of domestic partners in benefit coverage and an explicit sexual orientation anti-discrimination policy. (I hear gay people work and study at UA.) Lots of theories exist on why Reed dropped out of the Senate race, including high blood pressure, but Ernest Dumas ran through a few of them in late 2009. Reed would have had to defend his windfall receipt over the year of federal crop subsidies, for one thing. His support of a segregationist academy in Lee County, where his children attended school, was another. Then there's his friendship and subordinate business partnership with Jim Lindsey, the former Hog football player and trustee whose business relationships with the university as a trustee and long-time UA insider, particularly in athletic affairs, have been entirely too close for the kind of arms-length relationship that we should expect in public institutions.

To a disinterested observer, this recitation might appear an obvious disqualifier for Reed. Only to someone who hasn't spent much time in Arkansas.

The early prognosticating splits the 10-member Board at 4-4 on Reed, with two swing votes. Gov. Mike Beebe is said to be taking a hands-off position, though he's named four board members and shortly will name a fifth. Beebe's caution, even in the potential circumstance of putting a Religious Right Republican, friend and business partner of a huge Republican fund-raiser, in charge of the state's premier higher education institution, has never been more evident. He said in the paper he's happy to see John Ed Anthony stay on, though his term expires, to finish this job search. (I probably should have mentioned originally that Beebe is very close to Searcy banker Reynie Rutledge, who is Jim Lindsey's brother-in-law. So there is that connection.)

One thing I haven't figured out is why Dr. Carl Johnson of Little Rock, now the chairman of the Board of Trustees, is not leading the job search.

I've been told, by the way, you can forget those rumors about U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor's potential interest in the job.

I haven't called Reed about this because he's never returned my calls.

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