The University of Arkansas Board of Trustees meets Friday morning in Monticello and the question is whether a decision will be reached at an executive session that morning to name a new system president.
I reported last night that two former trustees, Marianna farmer and lawyer Stanley Reed and Jonesboro banker Frank Oldham are in-state contenders to succeed retiring B. Alan Sugg.
A highly thought-of out-of-state candidate apparently fell by the wayside this week on account of the reluctance of his wife, also a Ph.D., to make the move to Arkansas.
Confidential soundings are underway among the trustees. As many as five, including three from East Arkansas, are seen in the camp of Reed, a Republican with strong ties to the powerful Republican kingmaker and former trustee, Jim Lindsey. (You'd be surprised at the ties real estate developer Lindsey can bring to a deal like this after his years as Hog football star and business titan. One insider notes he has extensive apartment development business, potentially a way to do favors for a furniture manufacturing trustee. That this would be mentioned to me is a measure, even if not a real influence, of how conspiratorial the matter has become and how intertwined Arkansas still remains.)
There's strong opposition to Reed on the board. He'll need six votes on the 10-member board to be chosen. Problems: He'd head a system that includes a historically black college. His resume includes support for a segregation academy in his home Lee County, long racially fraught. He was president of the Arkansas Farm Bureau when it supported anti-gay ballot measures — on marriage and adoption, the latter of which passed by a much closer margin and benefitted greatly from Farm Bureau backing. He would head a university system with an explicit policy of anti-discrimination on account of sexual orientation. He's seen as a "Fayetteville candidate," with both UA and UA Law School degrees. This is a matter of importance to the other campuses in the system, who already feel like stepchildren. Less so the Board of Trustees, dominated by Fayetteville graduates.
The board divisions will play out mostly in the privacy of the executive session. If the deal gets done, such differences are often papered over afterward in a public unanimous vote. I'm assured that's not likely in this case.
I wonder if a trustee might think it's time again to talk about elevating UA-Fayetteville Chancellor David Gearhart. He's popular, diplomatic and exactly the sort of proven administrator and fund-raiser that a system with several trouble spots could use. He's demurred previously, saying he preferred to establish himself in Fayetteville as chancellor for several more years. He and his wife also want to stay in Fayettevile. There are some on the board who think moving the system president's office to Fayetteville would be a signal other campuses couldn't stomach, no matter Gearhart's skills.
In short, who knows? But, I continue to be told this could be the week. Dr. Carl Johnson of Little Rock became board chairman earlier this month and he'll be presiding over his first meeting. It could be timberman John Ed Anthony's last board meeting. He's been staying on past expiration of his term to lead the president search and he surely wants to go out on a graceful and successful note. As one board member told me, however, there's nothing to say the search can't continue for a national candidate.