by Max Brantley
Something's cooking on leadership of the University of Arkansas System.
Dr. Alan Sugg, 70, president of the system for 19 years, hasn't announced retirement plans. He insists he's made no such plans. But the issue is to come up at least briefly at a Board meeting this week and a move is afoot to give the job to former Arkansas Farm Bureau president Stanley Reed (pictured).
Sugg told me categorically that no decisions would be made about a change in leadership at the Board's meeting Friday at UAMS. Just the same, other Board members say they've been told there will be an executive session discussion of potential transition issues.
The central question: will there be a national search for a successor or might an in-state candidate be a pick? If an in-state pick means there's no search, might there be a phased change where, for example, Sugg would work for one more year to assist transition then take a second sabbatical year when the new leader would take over?
This scenario, which anticipates Stanley Reed emerging as the next UA president, was outlined to me by three Board sources. Sugg said the information was "not correct."
Nonetheless, Ben Hyneman, a new Board member from Jonesboro, said he'd been alerted by Sugg himself to a discussion about Sugg's succession at an executive session of Friday's meeting. But he said he did not yet know if a specific proposal would be on the table.
Hyneman said no one had lobbied him on behalf of Marianna farmer and lawyer Stanley Reed's selection as the next UA president. Reed has told a number of people he's interested in the job. Sugg confirmed that he had remarked at Reed's recent retirement from the UA Board that Reed would be a fine successor if he ever chose to retire. But Sugg said the remark had been taken more seriously than it was intended.
Nonetheless, Hyneman said he thought highly of Reed, for his UA undergraduate, law school and Board background. "Those are good qualifications."
There is opposition on the board to naming Reed, at least without a search process first. Trustees John Tyson, Carl Johnson, Sam Hilburn and John Ed Anthony are said by my sources to prefer an open process. Jim Lindsey, the current board chair, is a strong backer of Reed. The Board has 10 members. As chair and senior Board member, Lindsey has great influence on the Board, plus, one other member said, he has business dealings with several of the board members. Lindsey has been lobbying for a rare reappointment to another 10-year-term on the Board, and failing that, perhaps for his brother-in-law Reynie Rutledge, a Searcy banker and supporter of Gov. Mike Beebe.
Reed has no background as a college administrator or academician, opponents of his quick pick note. He's the outgoing head of the Arkansas Farm Bureau. That's a politically influential job, but not without minuses. He made some enemies at the legislature when the Farm Bureau fought the creation of a state agriculture department. He's also led the Farm Bureau's involvement in some political issues -- support of Act 1, to name one, to ban adoption and foster parenting by unmarried couples and opposing animal cruelty legislation -- that could create some other opposition.
Reed was out-of-state Tuesday and didn't respond to a message I left on his phone.
One Board member, speaking on background, said at least four board members were unhappy about what they viewed as Sugg's efforts to designate his successor through remarks at Reed's retirement party. And they favor, first, an open, national search for a successor.
Said the Board member: "I think with the good things that have been happening at the university, we're reaching the level where we can get top-notch folks that want that job. The only way you find that out is to do a national search. We owe it to people of
John Ed Anthony, the timberman, echoed that sentiment:. "It seems appropriate for a job of this nature for the process to be open and transparent and for all qualified persons to be considered." He said Reed was a "fine man" with a great love of Arkanas and strong credentials. But there others like him and "we'd like to have the option to hear from all of them."
Anthony said Sugg had indicated his time to retire was near, but that he intended to stay until a successor was named and the Board wsas comfortable with the successor. Anthony said he hadn't been told about any specific action on the matter at the meeting this week. "I would hoped there would be no planned power play in effect that would put a new president off on a wrong foot."
He added that Reed was a "consensus" person and he doubted Reed would want to take a job where strong objections might exist. "It's a huge job," Anthony said. "It should not be taken lightly."
I've had trouble reaching most of the key players. I'd particularly like to reach Board member Jane Rogers of Little Rock, who reportedly "interviewed" Reed about a job that technically doesn't yet exist.
UPDATE: Fires are being put out. Dr. Carl Johnson is cutting short a Hawaiian trip to be in Little Rock for Friday's trustee meeting. Dr. Sugg has been calling Board members to assure them that no vote will be taken Friday. But a skeptical board member said, "Hell, Sugg isn't in the executive session. He doesn't make the motion. Lindsey does." Lindsey was disingenuous when he told John Brummett the item wasn't on the agenda. It wasn't, but Board members have been told by Sugg to expect a discussion in executive session because he's made the decision that he's ready to begin retirement planning.
Lindsey has also told John Brummett that he'll attempt no cram-down Friday, though he confesses he's a big Reed admirer. Lindsey and Reed have done some farm business together.
Lindsey's role in this is important not only for the direction of the university system as a whole but for something much more important to many -- UA athletics. Lindsey is believed unhappy with the new athletic administration and has been working to continue his influence in that vital area of the university mission.
AND FINALLY: The Fayetteville Trucker, a long-time UA observer, says don't believe Jim Lindsey until it's over. He thinks this deal is greased for Reed. He thinks, in fact, that Reed greased the hiring of former legislator Bill Bevis as a UA lobbyist, a country caucus pal of the Farmboy Stanley. We shall see, I reckon.