Arkansas Idol: Choosing a UA president | Arkansas Blog

Friday, April 29, 2011

Arkansas Idol: Choosing a UA president

Posted By on Fri, Apr 29, 2011 at 7:49 AM

I told you earlier this week that the Arkansas Farm Bureau had mounted a political lobbying campaign to install farm manager and Jim Lindsey tool Stanley Reed as president of the University of Arkansas System. The Farm Bureau road show has been evident in every public meeting held this week on the UA president job search.

Today Reed, who doesn't talk to me, was quoted in the Democrat-Gazette as saying that he was interested in the job. No s*** Sherlock. I've been reporting this for weeks. Indeed, if the farm/Lindsey lobby had had its way, he'd have been secretly ratified as the new president without prior announcement or public job search.

Openness is better, no matter the candidate. Reed owes the university community and the public his thoughts on the reactionary positions the Farm Bureau took under his leadership on any number of issues, from taxation to discrimination against homosexuals. Its long-standing fight of animal cruelty legislation merits discussion. So, too, does Reed's support in his hometown of a segregation academy. But before all that, the public needs an open board discussion on whether service on the University board, farm management and Arkansas residency is all that is required for heading a highly complex and huge educational institution that might benefit more from someone with academic management credentials.

To hear the Farm Bureau tell it, we are playing Arkansas Idol. I have half a mind to set up one of those 900 voting numbers to get people to text message their votes for UA president. The Farm Bureau has the dough to stuff the digital ballot box and make me a nifty profit.

Dr. Carl Johnson,
current UA board chairman, has put some of the secret lobbying on public display with his series of public forums. It isn't a pretty sight. Nor has the University of Arkansas's abuse of the Freedom of Information Act been a pretty sight. I've only learned this week — through the Democrat-Gazette's (unacknowledged) followup of my original reporting — that I wasn't provided all board communications about the secret job search conducted over the last several months. Full disclosure would have also included a flirtation with former U.S. Rep. Vic Snyder and a Texas college administrator and disclosure of talk of a $600,000 contract for a University of Missouri chancellor avidly pursued by the board. It also included further demonstration of abuse of the public meetings law in round-robin two-member Board meetings on the job search. The UA counsel thinks this is legal. I can't find another lawyer who does. The University also thinks it is legal to redact information about meetings with Walmart executives from FOI requests. This is a continuation of a practice I contested unsuccessfully once at the lower court level. A judge bought, erroneously I think, that the UA is at a competitive disadvantage if it's required to talk about secret agreements it has reached with Waltons and related on university contributions. The competitive disadvantage clause is meant to apply to private businesses, not public institutions. Leon Holmes, who is now a federal judge and who is an accomplished press lawyer, shared my view on this at the time of the circuit court decision, I'm happy to say. The Times had been beggared by legal expenses run up by UA delays in the case and we couldn't afford the appeal then. This protection of the rich by the UA may yet be ripe for another, fuller challenge.

I am happy to say new documents I've received include a letter from UA trustee David Pryor. You can find his letter at the bottom of this compilation of a variety of communications about the job search. In a letter to John Ed Anthony, then heading the search, he reports "increased frustration" with the process. He said the process should be "opened up."

Said Pryor: "Full transparency would serve us well. ... Also I am very concerned that the current 'search process' could ultimately cause our board to violate the Freedom of Information law." Indeed. That this January letter to Anthony wasn't produce when the UA complied with my initial request gives you a little idea of how they roll. (The UA argues I didn't phrase my request broadly enough to capture all these documents.)

On the jumps: Links to more from the UA document dump on the presidential search.

ua1.pdf">Batch 1

Batch 2

ua3.pdf">Batch 3

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