Leader Blues

Thursday, July 03, 2008

EDITORIAL >>Hardin owes an apology

Lu Hardin, whose promotional bravado and wizardry turned the University of Central Arkansas at Conway into the fastest-growing and flashiest university campus in Arkansas, lost a little of his bloom this week. He managed to look greedy and sneaky and, worst of all for a college president, perhaps a little dishonest. His political ambitions took a hit, too.

It turns out that Hardin had cadged a $300,000 bonus from the university’s board of trustees and not been straight with anyone about it. The board gave him the bonus at a closed meeting back in May and the action was not recorded at an open meeting, as the law clearly requires.

Now the board has to decide how to correct it: alter the minutes of the May meeting or vote again to give him the bonus, although he long ago cashed the check. Either course will not remedy the fact that it violated the law.

But as serious as flouting the law is, Hardin’s own handling of the matter is the most distressing. The university’s faculty will get no raises the next school year because Hardin said the university could not afford it, notwithstanding a 5 percent increase in tuition. He said he was not going to take a raise either.

Word leaked that day that he was, indeed, getting a raise, a big one, but Hardin through an assistant flatly denied it. John Brummett, a newsman for the Stephens newspapers, dropped the matter when he heard Hardin’s denial. But the Arkansas Democrat Gazette heard the same rumor later and made a request for pay records under the Freedom of Information Act, which turned up the $300,000 payment from the university’s privately raised funds. The board’s president said that it was merely an oversight not to record a vote for the bonus at a formal board meeting. Hardin lamely contended that he had been technically honest when he said he did not get a raise because the bonus was not a recurring payment. The IRS considers it annual compensation, as we imagine everyone else does. It cashes just like a paycheck.

Hardin explained that he had been approached by another university a year or so ago about applying for the presidency and he had taken it to the UCA board. The trustees pledged a $300,000 bonus payable in five years if he did not seek the other job.

Then, two months ago, because of speculation that the University of Arkansas might approach him about the presidency of the U of A system— that does not seem to be a reasonable prospect — the board decided to go ahead and give him the bonus now to discourage him from pursuing that job. Hardin’s aggressive promotion of UCA through newspaper and television advertising in which he stars has pumped up UCA’s enrollment and visibility, and the board does not want anyone else to get his talents. Understandable.

But the former state senator and candidate for the U.S. Senate isn’t going anywhere. His job now is to restore some credibility with the faculty and students — and the public at large. Truthtelling ought to be an unconditional requirement for an academic leader.