by Max Brantley
It was the only way to begin putting an end to the turmoil.
UCA announced today that President Lu Hardin will repay the $300,000 he received as accelerated payment of a deferred compensation plan.
He will receive the bonus eventually only if funded by private money and only after faculty pay increases (of what size, the news release doesn't say.)
Full release on the jump.
It's a good step. Private money has been contributed to pay for an earlier $100,000 bonus. Private funding of the $300,000 will remove any question about whether this bonus might have exceeded the state pay cap. The UCA Board of Trustees had believed that the source of the money -- a discretionary account comprising profits from campus book and restaurant sales -- could be considered private. An attorney general's opinion is pending on the point. I'd guess the opinion won't find that to be private money, but a promise to handle it with purely private money should solve the problem.
Questions remain in my mind still if the UCA Foundation is the source of the money. It has ties -- through university payment of employees -- to the university. It is not wholly independent. On the other hand, perhaps it has been independent. Given two opportunities so far to cover bonuses to Hardin, it has not yet done so, except as a pass-throuugh for Rush Harding's $100,000 check last week.
These are the big issues for UCA in a media fury that has been all about the president and little about the campus' strong growth under Hardin's leadership. This welcome move won't shut down all the talk, however. There'll be some continuing discussion on account of his hire this week of a trustee's daughter, Katie Henry, for a $70,000 legal job at UCA, without advertising the opening, though Hardin has stoutly defended the new lawyer's qualifications. And I can tell you that every major media outlet in town has been flooded with a stack of more material about what a Hardin critic perceives as favoritism in university business, most centering on use of university facilities, property and employees in ways that are alleged to have benefitted friends and kin of UCA officials. I have no idea of the merits of this material at the moment, but it suggests enemies see blood in the water and haven't yet given up hopes of capitalizing.
UCA NEWS RELEASE
Hardin to reimburse $300K payment
CONWAY, ARK. -- University of Central Arkansas President Lu Hardin today announced that he will personally reimburse UCA for the $300,000 deferred compensation he received through an action at the UCA Board of Trustees meeting in May.
"I already have acknowledged that this matter was not handled well, and I deeply regret the mistakes we made," Hardin said. "The UCA Board of Trustees and I are taking corrective measures to ensure this error never happens again."
Hardin continued, "By refunding this money, acknowledging our mistakes and ensuring that they are not repeated, we hope to put this issue to rest, so that it does not continue to distract from all of the positive achievements of the faculty, staff and students at UCA."
Hardin said his decision to refund the money was influenced by meetings with faculty representatives, including UCA Faculty Senate President Kurt Boneicki.
"I appreciate the Board of Trustees’ confidence in my leadership demonstrated by their vote several years ago to award the deferred compensation, but I also respect and appreciate the concerns of the UCA faculty," Hardin said. "I have had a great working relationship with the faculty and the Faculty Senate over the last six years, and I am confident that will continue."
Hardin will receive his deferred compensation only if private funds are used to cover the full amount, and only after the UCA faculty receives salary increases. "These two contingencies are critical to good faith in this matter," Hardin said.
Randy Sims, chairman of the UCA Board of Trustees, said, "This deferred compensation was voted on three years ago and was accelerated because of Lu Hardin’s remarkable success in dramatically increasing student enrollment, increasing the average ACT scores of UCA’s entering freshmen, bringing UCA into Division I athletics, and procuring a new $18 million building for UCA’s College of Business. However, like Lu Hardin, the Board is sensitive to the concerns of the faculty, and I believe this will be a positive move and an appropriate response to many of the concerns they raised."
The Board of Trustees voted to accelerate the deferred compensation payment during executive session at their regularly scheduled meeting in May. They did not reveal the vote when they returned to the public session, which raised questions about the legitimacy and openness of their action.