Friday, August 22, 2008

EDITORIAL >>Lu Hardin must resign

Could anyone, least of all Lu Hardin, have missed the point of Rush Harding III’s pointed observations Thursday that he was very sure that Hardin would put the University of Central Arkansas ahead of his personal interests? In other words, Hardin would surely resign as president of the university rather than force the institution to sicken under the cloud of his misconduct. Rush Harding is the lion on the school’s board of trustees and until recently the president’s most earnest champion.

But the spectacle on the Conway campus continued with Hardin skipping a meeting with the Faculty Senate on account of his health and then showing up for a funfest in his honor at Little Rock’s downtown Peabody Hotel, where the president’s falsehoods, deceptions and greed were treated as one big funny episode. Hardin seemed shocked by a reporter’s question about whether he had considered resigning. He had not, even for a moment.

Hardin picked the sunnier meeting to attend, which is perhaps what his health needed. He is recovering from serious eye surgery. The Faculty Senate meeting, where he was supposed to explain his conduct more fully, was no funfest. The professors reviewed a report on interviews with three administrators, who reaffirmed that they had no part in preparing a memo recommending secret annual bonuses for the president that Hardin sent the board of trustees over their names.

Let us recapitulate the summer’s developments. At a closed meeting in May, the board gave Hardin a $300,000 bonus on top of his $250,000 salary and more than $150,000 in annual perks, including premium Charmin toilet paper for the president’s home instead of the industrial grade bought under contract for the rest of the university. In doing so, the board violated at least three state laws, but Hardin had assured them the trustees that everything was really legal. When the big payout leaked to faculty members and the media, Hardin insisted that it was not true. When the facts came out, he apologized and gave the money back to the school.

The big bombshell landed when a trustee released the record, which included a secret memo to the board from the three administrators making the case for paying Hardin an extra $150,000 every year as “deferred compensation.” Here is the appearance: Hardin was so hungry for another $150,000 that he was willing to counterfeit a memo from three unknowing aides arguing that laws could be bypassed to give Hardin the extra cash without the public or the faculty ever knowing it.
At an institution whose mission and status depend upon the integrity of its scholarship, the falsified memo had to be an earthquake. Faculty and students who falsify their work usually do not get a second chance.

Faculty senators Thursday said they found almost no support for the president, only anger, and trustees said Hardin’s future depended upon his ability to assuage faculty rancor.

As always happens when there is blood in the water, faculty members introduced other complaints against the president: political favoritism in hiring, intervention by the president’s office to have failing grades removed for certain students and favoritism in granting scholarships. Hardin was furious later, perhaps justly, when he was informed of it. He said he had never personally altered a grade, which of course is not what was alleged.

He said scholarships were awarded fairly and there was no favoritism in hiring.

But everyone was already aware of his hiring this summer of the young daughter of a trustee as the university’s associate counsel without a search.

As for grade changing, we must trust and hope that Hardin’s denial was genuine. But we do know that in his previous job as director of the state Department of Higher Education, which has budgetary dominion over all the campuses, Hardin telephoned at least one chancellor to ask him to alter the grade of the offspring of a friend. In the world from which Hardin came, politics, a favor like that is the coin of the realm, but in academia it has to be simple corruption.

Hardin ought to resign to stop the hemorrhaging. He needs to tend to his own health if it is too much to ask that he tend to the health of the school that he loves.