by Max Brantley
News this week about some secret financial dealing by the University of Central Arkansas Board of Trustees had a ripple effect. It stirred more talk about UCA and the campus' vigorous president, Lu Hardin.
The former state senator has long had political ambitions. So came a call this morning from a well-placed Republican on the subject. I didn't credit it. And told him so initially. But I try to check them all out.
The story was that the same UCA Board of Trustees that had secretly accelerated a deferred compensation plan for Hardin -- by payment of $300,000 in a lump sum of public cash two years before it was due -- had also met secretly about giving Hardin a sabbatical -- paid leave -- to run for public office. My tipster said the office would be governor in 2014, after the presumed completion of the Amagon Dynasty.
This sounded like a stretch for a lot of reasons, one being that six years might as well be a century in the half-life of politics. But I made a call to my former co-worker Warwick Sabin, now handling public affairs for UCA, who checked with Hardin. He said Hardin would get back to me in 30 to 45 minutes. That meant there was something to this report.
Hardin was going to call back. But, instead, he had Warwick call. He relayed what Hardin said: Hardin had been informed, though he was not present, that the UCA Board had discussed a sabbatical for Hardin at some point, but no action was taken. Hardin wanted it noted that it is common to give university presidents sabbaticals after six to nine years of service. But he said, according to Warwick, this discussion had "nothing to do whatsoever with political office." Hardin said he hadn't requested a sabbatical and had none planned.
Did the subject of a sabbatical appear out of nowhere, simply on account of a grateful board? I don't know. I have a call into Rush Harding about that. He's not chairman of the board, but the LR securities executive seems to be the functional equivalent at UCA of Jim Lindsey on the UA Board. He's the bull in the china shop who runs things -- sometimes in ill-considered ways, such as secret votes for pay enhancements in excess of statutory pay limits. The shame for UCA is that actions arising from his CEO-style of private management of a public institution -- if done according to the law in daylight -- would often be defensible, as in the case of rewarding and retaining Hardin at the helm of a booming campus.
PS -- An admirer of Hardin calls to comment -- with justification -- that the politics of taking a sabbatical for a political campaign would be so damaging that it's hardly worth mentioning, even speculatively. He adds, about Hardin's compensation package: "At that level, he's still one of the lowest paid college football coaches in the country."
PPS -- Another example of the wisdom of sabbaticals was the GOP UCA prof who took a paid leave to run for legislature. As one correspondent put it, "he got his brains beat in." I suspect Lu remembers the episode.
PPPS -- The Log Cabin Democrat notes the deferred comp/accelerated bonus money came from an auxiliary account built by student book, food and other purchases. It says private donors plan to reimburse the account.