UPDATE: The Suggs saga: Mum is the word. An ominous silence? | Arkansas Blog

Monday, April 20, 2015

UPDATE: The Suggs saga: Mum is the word. An ominous silence?

Posted By on Mon, Apr 20, 2015 at 6:04 PM

KATV and Matt Campbell seem to have encountered the same thing I've encountered today at local and state school offices related to Interim Little Rock Superintendent Dexter Suggs — silence.

Is action contemplated as a result of Blue Hog Report's publication of allegations of apparent plagiarism by Suggs on his doctoral thesis at Indiana Wesleyan?

A formal review? A statement that he's somehow explained things satisfactorily? A suspension pending review? A termination? A mutual agreement that change would be better for all parties?

No one, from his supervisor, Education Commissioner Johnny Key, on down and including Suggs, will say or even respond to questions. This naturally has led to increased speculation that action is in the offing, sooner rather than later. The most popular prediction is noon tomorrow.

Suggs works under a contract with the Little Rock School District, which is defunct. That makes him, under past takeover precedent, an at-will employee of the state. Changes could be made in his situation, lawyer John Walker says, without the customary process afforded contract employees. Walker, too, had dug up questions about Suggs' education in the course of his contesting with Suggs on employment matters.

In the abstract, you could speculate about an arrangement that the state agreed to a payment under old contract terms to a contract employee abruptly in this situation to ease a transition into private life. Again: this is nothing but speculation, but I've met no one yet who thinks Suggs can survive if he can't readily explain away the plagiarism allegation.

The only statement from the School District today is notice of a meeting at 5 p.m. Tuesday of the Civic Advisory Committee, a powerless group formed after the state takeover to hear about district progress in bringing schools up to standards. The low scores of six of the district's 48 schools caused the takeover and removal of the elected school board, but Suggs, unaccountably, was left in place. He's been off to a rocky start, with miscommunication on school changes, an improvident witch hunt against some teachers (which soon could be subject of a lawsuit in addition to an existing FOI complaint) and now the plagiarism allegation.

The announcement of the advisory committee meeting  does not say specifically that Suggs will be present. But it says the structure is intended for "the superintendent" to provide information. Two public meetings that Sugg was expected to attend today — a brown bag lunch with the public and a town hall meeting at Central — were canceled.

Somebody asked: But if Suggs goes, who's put in charge. An absence of a ready figure kept him on in the first place after a former superintendent turned down the job. An obvious choice would be Jerry Guess, a pro who's weathered this before in bringing the Pulaski County School District nearly back on its feet (particularly if voters will approve new construction millage.) Teachers could rest easy. He wanted to work with the Pulaski teachers, but they wouldn't give any ground. The bigger question is whether he fits what the Hutchinson Administration wants.

Remember, part of the reason for disarray now is the Hutchinson-team expectation that the Walton-backed privatization legislation would pass and permanently end a publicly operated Little Rock school district and abolish the teachers union instantly. That bill's unexpected failure has left them scrambling — with not much to show for the supposed need for emergency action — behind a superintendent who appears not up to the job.

UPDATE: The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette made its first mention Tuesday morning of the plagiarism controversy, which broke last Wednesday. It also got a rare quote from Suggs, perhaps because the newspaper's editorial page has been so supportive of him. Or maybe Cynthia Howell ran him to ground somewhere.

"I do not feel like I intentionally committed any fraud or plagiarism or anything of that particular nature," Suggs said, adding that the questions about the authenticity of his dissertation — which are pending before the Arkansas Department of Education and Indiana Wesleyan — can be resolved.

It is possible, I suppose, that someone could be so sadly informed to think that copying and pasting chunks of other people's work without citation is legitimate research and thus be unintentional. You'd hope a school superintendent would be better versed.

Suggs told the Democrat-Gazette his attorney had urged him not to comment. Anybody know who Suggs' attorney is? In current education issues, that can sometimes be a telling marker of where an embattled person's power base lies.

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