by Max Brantley
The University of Central Arkansas situation may come to a head today.
The Board of Trustees will meet at 4 p.m. Up for discussion: Whether to "roll over" over President Lu Hardin's five-year contract -- that is add a fifth year now that the first year of the five-year pact has been completed.
Expected: A strong statement from the UCA Faculty Senate, reportedly meeting this morning. That could range from anything from a call for censure to a call for termination.
A primary issue with the Senate will be the memorandum that Hardin wrote over the name of other administrators backing the terms of a new deferred compensation plan for the president.
But a growing issue in the community is a question about favoritism by Hardin for friends and UCA officials -- such as special housing for children and grandchildren of connected people -- Trustee Michael Stanton, Republican leader Sheffield Nelson, state Sen. Gilbert Baker -- and a favor done by UCA staff for a campaign event for Sen. Gilbert Baker.
Some of those favoritism allegations are discussed in an article in this week's edition of the Times. We've posted it early on account of today's events.
Hardin, so far, has given every indication of standing fast in the turmoil that initially arose because of a pay bonus arranged without public announcement. Pressure has been growing in some quarters for a resignation, an idea mentioned in an editorial in this week's Times as an option the Board might welcome.
UPDATE: Sen. Gilbert Baker has sent other senators a note about our article this morning. It's on the jump. It's misleading in a number of respects, the most obvious being his assertion that single-family housing is equally available to all married students at UCA. It is also untrue that the Times didn't make an effort to call Baker. He called us back today, in fact, in response to a message left on his phone. His innuendo about our reporter hardly bears comment. But, for the record, John Williams knocked on the door, asked permission to ask questions and was invited in. Finally, no rumors were spread. Only facts. Read them and form your own opinion.
NOTE FROM SEN. BAKER
I heard there were some rumors flying around the capitol and I wanted you to have the facts. Thanks, Gilbert
Today, I have been saddened to learn that my family and integrity have been falsely attacked.
It was brought to my attention that the Arkansas Times was working on a story regarding student housing on the campus of the University of Central Arkansas (UCA). After reading the misinformation, I felt I had to provide the facts.
Kinsey Moorehead was accepted to UCA on a full academic scholarship --that included housing. This acceptance was prior to her being married to my son, Stephen Baker, and was based solely on her academic performance and her outstanding ACT scores.
My son completed a two year degree at the University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton, and he, too, was awarded a full transfer scholarship based on his academic performance. These are academic achievements that any parent would be proud of.
After Kinsey and Stephen were married, they applied for married housing through the UCA Housing program. Stephen and Kinsey went through the same process as any other student applying for student housing. Their application was granted. Any attempt to prove political favoritism is negligent and futile because it just is not true.
What is most disturbing is the way the Arkansas Times handled processing this story. In an attempt to gather information for the story, the Arkansas Times reporter placed his hand on the door to enter Kinsey Baker's residence before being given permission. This scared her. This behavior is unacceptable for members of the Arkansas press or anyone else, for that matter. Moreover, I was never given an opportunity to provide facts for this story as I was with my family in Maine. The reporter left one message on my home phone. There was never an attempt to reach me on my cell phone or through the Arkansas Senate staff. I find this appalling.
My son, Stephen, is serving his country on deployment with the 123 rd intelligence squadron at the LR Airbase. He is also taking online courses in the College of Business. I am so proud of him and his precious wife. Shame on those spreading the rumors.
Thanks for letting me vent a little! Gilbert
JOHN WILLIAMS OF THE TIMES RESPONDS
A letter being circulated by Sen. Gilbert Baker not only attacks my story in tomorrow’s Arkansas Times, but also implies I acted in a threatening manner toward Baker’s daughter-in-law. Baker is entitled to his opinion of our story, but he has crossed a line by suggesting that I threatened my interviewee.
Here is what Baker states about my personal conduct in his letter: “In an attempt to gather information for the story, the Arkansas Times reporter placed his hand on the door to enter Kinsey Baker's [Baker’s daughter in-law] residence before being given permission. This scared her. This behavior is unacceptable for members of the Arkansas press or anyone else, for that matter.”
The reader will note that this description of my ‘attempt to gather information’ is so vague as to be meaningless. Is Baker suggesting that I tried to force my way in? Perhaps. But placing one’s hand on a door to enter a residence before being given permission can alternatively be described as ‘knocking.’
This is, in fact, what I did before Mrs. Baker came to the door. Mrs. Baker allowed me in as I asked her some brief questions about her husband and her home. After leaving, I immediately returned and knocked again to clarify that the topic of my story would be accusations about housing privileges for politically connected students, not general housing policy, as I had previously told her. At no time did I threaten Mrs. Baker.
Gilbert Baker is guilty of the same fault of which he accuses me. If he had called and asked, I could have told him exactly what I’ve written above. Instead, he has spread unfounded innuendo to damage me and the paper I write for. To echo Senator Baker’s complaint, his behavior is unacceptable for members of the Arkansas State Senate, or anyone else, for that matter. Reporters in this state will do well to be vigilant against such slander.
John C. Williams