Leader Blues

Friday, January 16, 2009

EDITORIAL >>Battle looms in Fayetteville

Barney Alan Sugg has kept such a low profile for the past 20 years that people may be tempted to believe that it makes no difference who is president of the University of Arkansas. Any rabid Razorback fan can do the job.

If we are to believe the blog reporting out of Fayetteville that very nearly became the prevailing dogma on the selection of a new president. We hope that the intrigue is dead and that the university makes a serious and dignified search for a president when Dr. Sugg retires. That may be June 30, 2010, when his contract ends. Dr. Sugg had asked the Board of Trustees a couple of years ago not to roll over his contract because he will be nearing 72 then and it might be a good time to quit. He said that at any rate he would give the board a year’s notice before stepping down.

A couple of blogs, including the reliable Arkansas Times blog, reported that Jim Lindsey, whose term on the Board of Trustees expires this month, wanted to go ahead and name the next president right now. The president would be Lindsey’s good friend and his farm manager, Stanley E. Reed of Marianna. Reed, a wealthy planter, served 10 years on the university board, like Lindsey under appointment by Governor Mike Huckabee. Reed’s 10-year term on the board ended last year.

Reed, a nice man we are given to believe, has no credentials to run a state university system, at least none that would be recognized by any academic institution or any scholar in the United States. That is not an inconsequential consideration in choosing a president for the state’s flagship university. The university attracts the best scholars that it can, and the little matter of who the president is and how and why he was chosen will have some bearing on its success in recruiting the people who will teach and conduct the research that makes a great university. The planning and directing of growth of a network of academic institutions is different from if not necessarily harder than managing sizable tracts of fertile Delta farmland. Reed has been a director of the white academy in Marianna set up to thwart integration of the city’s schools. Wouldn’t that be a fine qualification for a university president in 2009?

Lindsey, the old Razorback tailback and Minnesota Vikings special teams player, has been a force on the board the past 10 years, seen most often in the frequent Razorback coaching intrigues. Lindsey is a real estate magnate and continues to own farmland in St. Francis County, which Reed manages for him.

He was quoted by one blog this week as saying he would go along with a national search for a new president but in his own mind they just needed a president who understood what “woooo pig soooie means.” That would befit a university campus that ranks No. 1 in America in the percentage of instructional money that is spent on athletics. A U. S. Department of Education report listed the University of Arkansas first at more than 56 percent, far ahead of even the second-place school, the University of Alabama. But Arkansas ought to be trying to shed that image, not burnish it.

The Arkansas Times reported that four of the 10 trustees strongly resisted the move to rush pell mell into naming a new president this weekend, long before Sugg announces his departure and without a national search. The word was that Lindsey’s idea would not be discussed. It is heartening to learn that there are adults on the university board of trustees.