Leader Blues

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

EDITORIAL >> Pryor on UA board

Seats on university boards of trustees, particularly the University of Arkansas, are highly prized and every governor’s grateful patronage. Each seat is a chance to reward a powerful political supporter or else mollify a powerful group that feels that it is a big stakeholder in the university’s policies, like big agriculture. Thus are the governor’s appointments, one a year to each board typically, unremarkable. They are a renewed investment in the status quo.

But we are compelled to remark — favorably — upon Governor Beebe’s latest appointment to the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees. He appointed David Pryor, the former congressman, governor and senator, to replace Jim Lindsey, whose 10-year appointment by Governor Mike Huckabee expires.

The contrast tells you why it is remarkable. Lindsey, the old football star who made a fortune in farming and real estate, has had one consuming interest in the university, the Razorback athletic program, although his last service was to try to get his farm superintendent made the next president of the university system. Lindsey for a decade has been the de facto athletic director, a task that he shared collegially until recently with his old coach, Frank Broyles.

Though he was a triple-threat single-wing tailback for the Camden Panthers in the early 1950s, David Pryor has evinced a larger vision for the university than superlative athletic programs: sterling academics and a commitment to public service. When he retired from the U. S. Senate, he turned over much of his remaining campaign treasury — he ran unopposed in his last race — to the university to strengthen its archives and its oral and visual history programs, and he has taught at the university as an adjunct lecturer. After leaving the Senate in 1999, he did two-year stints as a fellow and director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and as the founding dean of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.

Micromanaging the Razorbacks will be down Pryor’s list of things to do, and that has to be good for the university, and for the state. You may recall that Jim Lindsey ran against Governor Pryor in the Democratic primary in 1976, aiming a lot of nasty volleys at the young governor, all of which went graciously unreturned. Pryor beat him 2 to 1. We would guess that is the approximate ratio of return that the people will get from the latest exchange of trustees.