Counter-productive, yes. But right? | Arkansas Blog

Counter-productive, yes. But right?

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Fayetteville taxpayers joined with University of Arkansas public money to help create the Walton Arts Center. Now the center board wants to build a bigger facility in Bentonville, while keeping a lesser operation in Fayetteville. Fayetteville City Attorney Kit Williams thinks the original agreement under which the arts center was built won't allow this. A recommendation for Bentonville expansion was expected because the Walton family, an original benefactor, made it clear major gifts would be tied to a Bentonville location. It will be an enhancement, see, to the coming Crystal Bridges museum and another step toward making Bentonville the No. 1 City of the Northwest in the arts as well as commerce. (Wonder when they can expand that Bentonville high school stadium to accommodate an occasional Razorback home game?)

Now comes University of Arkansas Chancellor David Gearhart to say the Walton campus of the UA system won't be siding with Fayetteville in any such legal fight. He's told the city in a letter that he's excited about the Bentonville expansion and believes "any discussion of litigation is counterproductive." It certainly would be counterproductive to Walton contributions, never mind the Fayetteville public trust. I wonder if he thinks Fayetteville taxpayers should still belly up for parking improvements to what will become a stepsister branch of the arts center. Say one thing for UA — when it gets bought, it stays bought.

I was thinking this morning about what the Walton's bargain basement lease purchase of the university a few years ago for $300 million will mean over time as the university focuses like a laser on Walton priorities — retail merchandising, privatizing of public schools and similar — while caring not so much about the liberal arts. The thought was prompted by an article about how colleges were coping with tighter budgets by cutting foreign language instruction. LSU, for example, (believe it or not, once considered an excellent land grant university) is phasing out German and Latin majors and dropping courses in Russian and Japanese, among others. What value is reading about Caesar's wars in the original Latin when you can teach people how to embed radio tracking codes in cartons of paper towels? The business of the American university is business, by damn. Let students read on their own time.

BTW: I learned last week that the Walton Arts Center, built with public money under a public contract and hoping for still more public money for an expansion, doesn't think it's subject to the state Freedom of Information Act. This was the same stance insisted on by the Waltons on their gift to UA. University officials, naturally, meekly complied. The argument, in essence, was that the Waltons might not give money if the university had to talk about the terms of getting Walton money.

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