Tuesday, August 09, 2011

EDITORIAL >> Spotlighting Broadway

How exercised should we all be that Governor Beebe has chosen a colleague from his lawmaking days to run the state Department of Higher Education? Shane Broadway is plenty knowledgeable about higher education and its financing, but it is a stretch to say that he is “an experienced educator in the field of higher education,” as the statute suggests that he ought to be.

If you follow the political blogs, letters to the editor and editorials in the Arkansas Democrat- Gazette, Broadway’s appointment approaches the crime of the century. Every Republican official has denounced the choice and called for the governor to take it back. Republican legislators have asked Attorney General Dustin McDaniel for an official opinion on whether Broadway fulfills the qualification of the law, and they offer their own opinion that he does not.

McDaniel is on the spot. We don’t know his relationship with Broadway, with whom he served a while in the legislature, but he is on good terms with the governor, with whom he also served. He knows Broadway’s abilities and his history as the leading author of the educational reforms of the past decade, both in public education and higher learning, but he also can read the statutes. It will take some circuitous reasoning to say that Broadway is “an experienced educator in the field of higher education.”

The other stuff in the law—demonstrated competence in institutional management and finance—Broadway plainly possesses, but “experienced educator” implies teaching or management at a college or university. He hasn’t done that.

Broadway served six years in the state House of Representatives and eight in the Senate. It was he, more than any other person, who crafted the maze of school-finance reforms after the Supreme Court’s Lake View decisions when Gov. Mike Huckabee could not produce anything but a draconian school-consolidation bill to address the court’s orders. Huckabee would embrace and praise those reforms. Broadway worked on legislation to increase the accountability of state-supported universities and community colleges. He is a master of government finances.

That is what the actual job, if not the statute, requires. The Department of Higher Education and its director do not control anything about an institution of higher learning. The Constitution requires that their own boards and no one else govern the universities, and the higher education director and his agency cannot interfere in the slightest way. The Department of Higher Education conducts studies and reviews of how and how effectively the universities spend their money, and it makes recommendations to the governor and the legislature. The department’s biggest nexus with the campuses is its administration of state scholarships created by the legislature, including the lottery scholarships. The law says the director is to be an advocate for higher education in the governor’s cabinet. Broadway is superbly suited for those roles.

But Broadway ran for lieutenant governor last year—as a Democrat—and he lost, narrowly. That makes him a politician first, and there are inevitable consequences to that. He is easy bait for political attacks.

Soon after the election, the Department of Higher Education hired him as its assistant director. When the director, Dr. Jim Purcell, announced in February that he was leaving to take a similar job in Louisiana, Broadway was made the interim director while the Higher Education Coordinating Board and the governor searched for a successor. Beebe has said that Broadway would make a suitable permanent director.

How much cleaner would it be if the governor and the coordinating board found someone with Broadway’s knowledge and skills who also met that particular qualification, a few months teaching or in an administrative role on a campus. But remember that all those Republican protests are political posturing, not principled objections. You may remember that only a few weeks ago the Republican candidate for president of the University of Arkansas system was a farmer and politician from Marianna, not a man with a week of teaching or administrative experience on a college campus. The late Stanley Reed was a political friend and appointee of Mike Huckabee and he was Sen. John Boozman’s campaign director last year, after bowing out as a candidate himself after one week.

If the chairman of the university’s board of trustees had permitted a secret ballot, Reed would have been named the president, the overlord of every aspect of learning at half the campuses in Arkansas. (Half the board members are still Huckabee patrons.) It might have saved his life. He was killed the next day when his car wandered off the road and hit a tree. Anyway, had he been chosen president there would have been a hue and cry.

From the people now protesting Shane Broadway would not have come a peep.