Friday, December 23, 2011

EDITORIAL >> Good times at UCA

What hath the University of Central Arkansas wrought? It suddenly has a president who does not want a contract and will step down anytime his board wants him to, is more than happy with the president’s old mansion as it is, who is perfectly content with a salary well below that of the smallest junior-college head and who intends to follow the law and the most niggling accounting rules.

Tom Courtway follows two presidents who for a decade insisted on the most embarrassing self-aggrandizement, including pay, perks and luxury housing and who found the laws and the simple rules of bookkeeping and transparency too confining. Lu Harden and Allen C. Meadors both resigned at the request of the board of trustees for their misdeeds.

Harden, you will remember, was convicted of fraud and money laundering in a scheme to get a $300,000 bonus from the school to pay his gambling debts and escaped this year with five years of probation and 200 hours of community service. Meadors resigned after misleading the board about a $700,000 “gift” he said he got for the university from a contractor but which was no gift at all but a confidential loan to get a long-term no-bid contract for food services on the campus.

Despite their perfidies, both got huge buyouts, $670,000 in Hardin’s case and $525,000 in Meadors’. And the university was financially strapped.

Courtway, an aw-shucks local boy who had made good in Washington as a tax aide to Senators Dale Bumpers and David Pryor and then as a highly effective state representative, had joined the university nearly a decade ago as its legal counsel and then in other capacities. When the board got rid of both Hardin and Meadors, it asked Courtway to step in as acting president and clean things up.

This time, the shell-shocked faculty, alumni and board wanted Courtway to stay on permanently as the president to give the school a hiatus of calm and good judgment.

Courtway didn’t want the job. He was not cut out to be a university president, he said. Last week, he sort of consented to stay on for up to three years though he said he would be very happy if the board found a real president much sooner.

The university is using the presidential line item in its appropriation to continue (over)paying the departed Meadors, but Courtway said that was all right; he was happy with the lowly pay of an administrative assistant who fixes things.

We will see how rectitude, competence, transparency and humility work in a university president. Maybe it will be catching.

Ernie Dumas writes editorials for The Leader.