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Can Lu survive? 

How about should he?

Rush Harding of Little Rock, the investment banker and businessman who dominates the board of trustees of the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, has been asking people if Lu Hardin “can survive this.”

“This” refers to Hardin's dissembling to the press and public, misleading the trustees in official communications and betraying his own immediate staff, all for the purpose of fashioning a big secret pot of money for himself as UCA's president while the faculty got diddly and students faced a tuition increase. ?  

“This” refers to Hardin's turning the school into his own self-promotional fiefdom in which he doles out favors to pals and insiders and puts himself on television more than Regis.

The answer is that, of course, he can survive.

As the UCA president, Hardin works for the board. He can survive if the board calls in Hardin's supporters to give testimonials to him, even to suggest that Hewlett-Packard is coming to Conway only because of him.

He can survive if the board determines that his egregiously dishonest and self-serving behavior is overpowered by enrollment growth and budget increases, as if lining up new students, many concurrent ones for kids still in high school, necessarily makes a college any better. 

He can survive because he says he's sorry and that he's learned lessons and because these were missteps, errors of judgment, so uncharacteristic of him and his public-service career marked by altruism and openness, at least in Lu's self-assessment, typically a veritable orgy of euphemism.

He can survive because Gov. Mike Beebe wouldn't dare lean on anybody. He and Lu are old bosom pals from the state Senate and the ever-powerful golf course.

But it's the wrong question, of course — “can” Hardin survive.

It implies and imposes the premise that it will be good or desirable or advantageous if he “can.” It invokes and applies its own predisposition.

The better question, the right one, is not whether he can survive, but whether he should.?     

That's the kind of question people ought to ask and devour, especially regarding public service and public trust. But in the political class, hardly anyone ever does.?    

Political insiders talk mostly about how things might be manipulated or weathered. Bad behavior is not something much to be punished, but analyzed and withstood, which is to say excused. It is to be measured and leveraged against the short public attention span and the media's addiction to moving to another story.?   

Political insiders don't normally talk about establishing an ideal, whether performance-based or ethics-based, and aiming for it, much less holding anyone to it. They talk about the achievement of power, then the prospects for retaining it.?  

Can the board overlook being misled by Hardin into illegal secrecy? Can the board overlook Hardin's untruths told to the press and public? Can the board overlook that their chief executive officer presented to them a presumably authoritative memo about his own pay that he falsely ascribed to his vice presidents, since he wrote it himself??  

Can the board overlook that, when it ordered Hardin to go out in public and confess to the immediately preceding transgression, he couched his comments in such soft-pedaled and murky mush that hardly no one knew what he was talking about?

The UCA board always goes into executive session, of course, so that we cannot know what's said or really thought. Good ol' boy club rules do not permit candor to the general public.?  

Then the trustees come back in open session and tersely report that they've taken no reportable action, which means, presumably, that they're not going to fire the guy.

The trustees have asked themselves whether Lu can survive.

Their answer is in their very asking. ?  

The issue of one public institution's underlying integrity gets subjugated to the more burning issue of numbers and dollars and the still-greater one of a political man's survivability.

 

John Brummett is a columnist and reporter for Stephens Media's Arkansas News Bureau. You can read additional Brummett columns in The Times of North Little Rock.

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