Tuesday, July 29, 2008

EDITORIAL >>Slide worsens for Hardin

Lu Hardin fans, and their numbers were legion at least until this summer, must be hoping that the endless unraveling of the bonus scandal at the University of Central Arkansas is finally approaching an end. What else can we possibly learn about the secret gratuities to the president?

Last week’s revelations were enough, worse in fact than the greed and multiple illegalities that came to light a month ago. It turns out that President Hardin faked a memorandum to the college’s board of trustees from his three top administrators that made the case for handing him a $300,000 bonus and putting aside another $150,000 every year as deferred compensation on top of his annual salary, which is $253,000 and rising. The names of the administrators were affixed to the bottom of the memo, but without their actual signatures. Jack Gillean, the vice president for administration and one of the putative authors of the memo, was quoted in it as saying that he had drafted a settlement with the university’s previous president and would do the same for Hardin’s secret stipends.

When one of the trustees released the memo last week, all three were shocked. They said they had nothing to do with it and in fact disagreed with its conclusions. Hardin apologized for writing the memo and for making it appear that the others were the authors.

Oh, the memo also said all the petty deeds, including raiding college cash funds intended to provide student services to pay the stipends, could be accomplished without a recorded vote by the board and without anyone outside the board and the insiders ever finding out about them. The memo said an attorney for the University of Arkansas had advised the group that since the extra cash would be deferred compensation rather than actual salary, it would be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, which requires formal action and disclosure of financial transactions. No one has yet demanded to know the name of the U of A attorney and why he was consulted for legal opinion rather than UCA’s own attorneys. Gillean himself is an attorney and formerly was UCA’s general counsel. Our guess is that no U of A attorney will acknowledge giving such absurd advice and that he, too, is fiction.

Hardin has been effusive in his apologies every time another shoe has dropped, starting with his lies to reporters who had heard rumors of a secret pay raise. He should never have denied it and he was deeply sorry, he said. The trustees have been just as regretful for their roles. Is that enough?

We said the sham memo from administrators was worse than actually granting the lagniappe and the violations of at least three laws (and perhaps the state ethics code as well) in accomplishing it. Here’s why: A university that does not prize academic integrity is lost. Faculty members who counterfeit their credentials or research are ordinarily fired. Students who purloin the work of others or submit bogus research get a zero at best and may be expelled from school. That actually is the practice at Lu Hardin’s school. Can he and the trustees set a lower standard for themselves?