Waltons' UA gift requires stepped-up arts spending by university | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Waltons' UA gift requires stepped-up arts spending by university

Posted By on Thu, Aug 24, 2017 at 11:42 AM

GETTING FACELIFT: Fine Arts Center at UA.
  • GETTING FACELIFT: Fine Arts Center at UA.
The University of Arkansas, in response to a Freedom of Information request, has provided a copy of the agreement between the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation and the UA on a $120 million gift to establish a School of Art.

It spells out that $10 million will go to the renovation of the existing Edward Durrell Fine Arts Center and $110 million will go into the University of Arkansas Foundation as an endowment, to be distributed at about 5 percent of the available funds per year for art school expenses. In return, the UA promises to increase its current budget for art from $3.2 million to $6.7 million a year by 2022. Together, the endowment and increased UA outlays will triple current annual spending in five years. The agreement stipulates that the Walton gift is not to replace existing funding.

UPDATE: Where will the additional UA money come from? Said Mark Rushing, spokesman for UA:

Sources include estimated revenue increases based on conservative projections of future student enrollment growth and other strategic reallocations. Led by Chancellor Steinmetz, the university has focused on a strategic reallocation effort for the past 18 months, resulting in the move of existing funds from central administration to academics at a rate of 3% over the next three years (1% per year) to support the university’s key academic priorities. Academic units also had the opportunity to reallocate 1% toward unit strategic priorities. $2 million was reallocated from central in year one
The money must be invested under an asset allocation formula dictated by the Walton  foundation, but the details of that formula were among the items redacted from a copy of the agreement supplied to the Times.

The new money will go for scholarships and to beef up faculty, including five endowed professorships and, the first year, three visiting professors to be paid $170,000 each under a UA proposal given to the foundation. The objective, said the agreement, is to put the UA among the top 25 art schools in the country.

The Waltons will have naming rights, the agreement stipulates, though no decision has yet been made.

One segment of the agreement is of interest, given the family's past UA investment and its influence on education policy and research. While the foundation expects reports on activities and the ability "to raise any appropriate issues" under the agreement:

...it is neither the intent nor the desire of the Walton Support Foundation to actively manage any of the ongoing affairs, operations, investments or academic programs of the University or the University Foundation ..... "
In making the proposal to the Foundation, the UA reflected its understanding of the business orientation of the benefactors. It said "performance metrics" would be put in place for each endowed faculty members, professional development, research and outreach. "Metrics will also be established pertaining to rate of hiring and candidate quality and diversity, with additional measures and strategies regarding faculty diversity to be developed going forward."

The school said, furthermore, that the new endowed chairs will be a model for "faculty service and accountability." They will sign an agreement on the achievement of "specific metrics, innovation and competitive leadership."

Diversity and inclusion were addressed even more directly. Said the UA proposal:

The School will be constructed as a model for inclusion and diversity. Progress in accomplishing this vision will be actively pursued, including but not limited to with regard to racial, ethnic, gender and geographic background, with measures and strategies regarding student and faculty diversity to be developed going forward.  Faculty diversity will foster community engagement and creativity and will help prepare students of the School of Art to connect with and inspire a passion for art among an increasingly diverse population within Arkansas and beyond. Student diversity will help create a rich learning experience for all students in the School and prepare them for service in an increasingly diverse society. Attracting and retaining a diverse student body will help prepare a diverse flow of candidates for professional opportunities in the arts.

An aside: That same vision and exhortation could apply to all of the state's endeavors. But the legislature has a narrower view of taking affirmative action. It sometimes even acts to actively discourage diversity.

The UA proposed a working relationship with the Walton fortune-created Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art  in Bentonville and promises the donor a place in the search process to hire a director of the school no later than January.  "This will also be the case for lead faculty of the School of Art and future Deans of the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Science," the university proposal said.

Walton input on future deans of the Fulbright school? Rushing elaborated in response to my question:

The language in the agreement allows the opportunity for a member of the community at large to be involved in the search process. While not a part of the official search committee, the member of the community would be allowed to meet candidates and provide feedback. For many positions, the university often seeks feedback from a wide variety of constituencies.

The full agreement outlines a breakdown of the gift, including in anticipated salaries for faculty members, from director of the school on down.

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