Some vigorous discussions are underway at Arkansas State University
in the aftermath of the sacking of Timothy Hudson
as chancellor of the Jonesboro campus following revelations about mishandling of a foreign study program in which his wife was a paid contract worker. These discussions include continuing questions about a subject of long interest — ASU's participation with a private company, Academic Partnerships,
in providing on-line courses through ASU — and also a Mexico campus venture
begun under Hudson's leadership. Also at issue: The extent to which faculty governance — versus top-down administration — exists also underlies the discussion, both by faculty and ASU followers. Opinions are strong.
History professor Erik Gilbert
put the subject in play with an op-ed in the Jonesboro Sun posing questions for ASU President Chuck Welch
about Hudson and related issues.
Welch responded at length and his response was posted on an ASU internet forum, where it has engendered still more comment
from ASU followers.
I'll reprint some of the key back-and-forth below, plus subsequent editorial comments in the Jonesboro Sun.
Dr. Chuck Welch's response to Erik Gilbert op-ed:
I read with great interest your guest editorial in yesterday’s edition of the Jonesboro Sun. I commend you on your passion for our university and your desire to see our university operate in a very open and ethical manner. I can assure you that I share that desire. You raised many important questions that I believe warrant a direct response. I am providing those responses below. I have organized my responses in the same manner in which your editorial was organized.
People, procedure and priorities
• “How did we end up hiring Tim Hudson in the first place? He appears to have been a last minute addition (possibly by invitation) to the candidate pool and evidently was not subjected to a careful background check.”
o I hired Tim Hudson after receiving considerable feedback from campus constituency groups and after conducting my own review of the candidates. The Chancellor Search Advisory Committee consisted of 21 members representing faculty, staff, students, alumni and community residents. While no formal votes were taken, there was considerable discussion from the committee regarding each candidate. Tim Hudson was viewed by many as having the appropriate skill sets to be a successful chancellor.
o It is true that Tim Hudson’s application was submitted near the end of the job posting timeline. He did, however, apply within the dates advertised. It is not at all uncommon for administrators with good jobs to wait until the end of a search process to apply as they are mindful of how applying could appear to their current employer. Tim Hudson was formally nominated for the position, and as I did with all nominees, I contacted him and invited his application. Part of my job in any search process is to encourage applicants to submit their names.
o Tim Hudson was subjected to a careful background check. I personally contacted references both from the list he provided, as well as outside of his list. I talked to former supervisors, colleagues, and subordinates. I was told nothing that alarmed me that he could not be an effective administrator. I am sure that some would point to negative comments about Tim Hudson that appeared on the internet. I also reviewed those postings and had to balance those with the other information I had at my disposal. Any university administrator who has served for any length of time will make decisions which alienate individuals and will be subject to negative online postings (anonymous postings in many cases). Like all ASU employees, Tim Hudson was subjected to a criminal background check and there were no adverse findings. Finally, I would point out that the recent internal audits found that allegations of similar misconduct were refuted by auditors at Tim Hudson’s previous institution. Obviously hindsight is 20/20, but I am comfortable that all due diligence was performed and ample information was available to make an informed decision.
• “If the same people and procedures that gave us Tim Hudson are used to find the next chancellor, why should Arkansans have confidence that we won’t end up hiring another person of equally questionable character?”
o I plan to use a similar process that includes substantial representation and input from all campus constituencies. I will again conduct all appropriate due diligence and weigh all information provided. I am very confident that we will attract a first class applicant pool and Chancellor.
• “What are our priorities as a university?”
o Our chief priority is to provide our students with a first-rate educational experience that allows them to be successful in and after college. We have stated that a top priority is to increase faculty salaries, and the Board of Trustees implemented a dedicated fee several years ago for this specific purpose. A top priority of mine is to increase our operational efficiencies. We will also be seeking ways to rely less on state revenues and student tuition, as neither of these revenue streams appear sustainable to grow and advance our university. I will discuss these priorities in greater detail at the faculty conference next week.
• “…is it not possible that our emerging Mexico campus involves similarly dubious entanglements?”
o I am not aware of any “dubious entanglements” with the Mexico project, but I certainly understand why so much concern exists because Tim Hudson was a critical part of this initiative. Our Mexican partners will be in Jonesboro next week, and I will be involved in numerous meetings along with a number of other university administrators. I actually had a conference call meeting with senior administrators yesterday morning to discuss how to proceed to ensure that we conduct a broad review of the initiative. I met with the Dean’s Council last week and spent a considerable amount of time discussing their concerns. I have also asked our legal counsel to take on a larger role in reviewing all documents and proposals related to this initiative. I truly believe that this could be a transformative initiative for our university, but I agree that we need to fully review the entire project to ensure that any concerns are appropriately addressed.
• “Now is the time to cut our losses on Mexico if it turns out to have been designed more for the Hudsons’ benefit than the university’s.”
o I would agree that we should discontinue the Mexico initiative if we learn it was designed “more for the Hudsons’ benefit than the university’s.” However, we have absolutely zero information that this is the case. We will certainly ask many questions and examine the entire initiative to ensure that it is appropriately constructed. Again, we have no information whatsoever at this time to suggest financial wrongdoing with regard to the Mexico initiative.
Recent articulation agreements
• “…it would be worth looking into them.”
o I agree completely, and I committed to the Deans Council to do so. Again, I have no information of wrongdoing or misconduct with regarding to these agreements, but I am happy to examine them to erase any doubt.
Our relationship with Academic Partnerships (AP)
• “So why does Academic Affairs seem so anxious to create new business for AP?”
o Thousands of students have been able to receive their degree from A-State as a result of our partnership with AP. I have personally heard from a large number of students who had a positive experience. Academic Affairs is creating new opportunities for our current and prospective students.
• “It’s almost impossible to find information about our relationship with AP.”
o Dr. Len Frey met with a representative of the Educational Leadership Department in September of last year to fully discuss the AP relationship and related revenues and expenses. Anyone who desires to learn more is welcome to schedule a meeting to discuss. I am not aware of anyone who was denied this information who actually asked.
• “Was Pablo Rubio’s compensation from AP used as a conduit to pass money to Multisense Espana and the Hudsons?”
o I obviously cannot speculate as to the relationship between AP and Multisense. We have no information suggesting that Tim Hudson received any inappropriate funds from AP.
• “Does AP pay anyone at ASU for consulting or other services?”
o We are not aware of any payments to ASU employees for consulting or other services, other than occasional meals when AP staff come to campus or our staff travels to their offices.
• “Does AP pay travel expenses or offer any other in-kind benefits to ASU employees or board members?”
o AP does not pay travel or provide other benefits. They do provide lunch when our faculty visit in Dallas and they may buy a meal on occasion when AP is in Jonesboro.
• “Does AP contribute to the ASU Foundation? If so, how much and how is that money used?”
o Academic Partnerships voluntarily agreed to allow the ASU System Foundation to release private contribution records. AP and/or its CEO have made five total contributions to the ASU System Foundation since 2011 totaling $4,250. These contributions were directed to two student scholarship funds and the A-State Fund. No contributions have been made to the Red Wolves Foundation.
• “Are the services AP provides to us put out to competitive bidding like other contractual arrangements?”
o The contract for online programs and degrees (RFP #57) was issued for public bid in June 2014. Academic Partnerships was the sole respondent and was awarded the bid. Supporting documentation is on file with procurement services and is available for public inspection.
Communication and transparency
• “Last year, academic deans were told…that if they wanted to attend meetings of the board, they would have to use vacation time to do so.”
o I first learned of this last Wednesday. I clearly communicated to the Deans Council that this was not my policy. I will make perfectly clear to all campus constituencies, and to all campus administrators, that anyone is welcome to attend meetings of the Board of Trustees and vacation time will not be required so long as the employee is otherwise fulfilling his/her job responsibilities.
• “ASU System President Chuck Welch was recently quoted as saying that he does not act on information from disgruntled employees.”
o I do not believe that I was quoted as saying this, and if I was it is absolutely untrue. I would appreciate being forwarded a copy of any article that I was quoted as saying this. I did say that I do not take actions based on rumor and innuendo; I only take action when presented with facts. I hear lots of rumors on a daily basis, many of which prove to be unfounded. I believe that to be a responsible leader I must operate only on facts and information presented to me in a factual manner.
• “The faculty list serve…is no longer open to the entire faculty and one must have permission to use it.”
o The faculty list serve is a true list serve, not a distribution list. A distribution list has many limitations whereas a list serve is open to all of its members. The Faculty List Serve name is: Faculty-L@mailman.astate.edu. The list serve currently has 528 active members, and each member has the ability to post messages, send messages, and respond freely. ITS staff are moderators to try to keep only faculty on the list serve. Some other users have been added in the past, but that typically is approved by a Director, Dean, or executive sponsor. ITS tries not to “police” this service. Anyone can request to be added or removed from the list serve at any time by sending a request to ITS_Systems@astate.edu. Users are not automatically added to the list as is often the case with list serves such as this.
Again, I appreciate your input and concern for our university. I would welcome you to contact campus administrators and/or me directly should you have further questions or concerns.
Dr. Erik Gilbert's response to Welch.
Thank you for your response. The last time I received a response from a senior ASU administrator was when Robert Potts responded to my public criticism of our arrangement with AP by telling me that in the future all discussion of AP should take place privately, through committees. Your response actually addresses the substance of what I said and that represents an important step forward. Thank you for taking the time and having the integrity to engage in discussion of the issues we face.
I am, however, curious that you chose not to respond publicly. In a nod to our new spirit of transparency, I am sharing my response on the faculty list serve.
A few points in your response I would like to address:
* While you go to some lengths to explain why Hudson’s superiors should not be held accountable for any of his actions, you don’t address the complicity of his subordinates. How is it possible that Academic Affairs, an office that routinely invested significant time and effort in scrutinizing travel reports for such transgressions as claiming coffee and a bottle water while waiting for a plane and was so worried about public appearances that they would refuse to reimburse food expenses if there was alcohol on the receipt, failed to see the impropriety of extending an application deadline for the Chancellor’s wife and asking HR to help her with the mechanics of the application. Unless Multisense Espana was paid outside of the usual mechanisms (which would be a scandal in its own right) someone approved those payments without asking for documentation. Leaving that person or those people in positions of authority does not inspire confidence that we have really turned over a new leaf.
* The proposed search process sounds worryingly like a repeat of the last one. Asking the committee to vote on and rank candidates would be a small step that might improve the odds of a successful search. In fact, all search committees should do this every time. Faculty should refuse to serve on search committees that do not vote and rank. Administrators are within their rights to ignore the vote and the ranking, but they should at least know the unambiguous sentiments of the committees.
* We seem to be in agreement on Mexico and our articulation agreements. However, I think it would require the work of some very sophisticated investigators to really determine that the Mexico deal is clean. I doubt the university has the capacity to do this by itself and would hope that we or the state would retain outside expertise for this.
* With respect to AP you are quite right that “thousands of students have been able to receive their degree[s]” thanks to AP. However, I find your word choice telling. You did not say that thousands of our students received a “first-rate educational experience” (which, you say, is our mission) thanks to AP. No doubt many of them had positive experiences; they got the low-cost and low-rigor degrees they sought. I have also heard from students in these programs who were horrified by the low standards that are characteristic of many of these programs, so I do not mean to imply that all of the students in these programs choose them for cynical reasons.
For some insight into the workings of companies like AP, I recommend this article:
And, at the risk of shameless self-promotion, this:
I suppose it’s a positive step that Len Frey is willing to give private briefings about the finances surrounding AP, but why can’t this be done publicly? Wouldn’t that be more transparent?
And why do faculty objections to putting the College of Education’s doctorate online though AP count for so little? Do we really place so little value on the faculty's expertise in their own fields that academic leadership should be able to discount the opposition of a department whose area is actually education and who have experience running a doctoral program? Does that show a commitment to a" first-rate educational experience”? Or might that be prioritizing revenue generation over academic integrity? I recognize that there were and are educational problems with the Ed.D., but putting the program online through AP will not remedy any of them.
To my mind the future of the Ed.D. is the litmus test of our institutional priorities. If we disregard the opinions of the faculty in the program and put it online against their objections or keep changing the roster in Ed Leadership until we find someone willing to support the online doctorate, we will have demonstrated that we put revenue before integrity.
With respect to Rubio, the Hudson’s, Multisense and AP, this is a subject that you can and should spend some time speculating about. Even if the only favor AP did for Hudson was to hire Rubio, that would still represent a potential conflict of interest. It certainly looks sketchy and one can easily understand why people concerned about our stewardship of the state’s money would be worried. Given the audacity of some of Hudson’s other schemes, and he was a bit of a visionary in this area, it’s hard to believe he was not tempted to use the considerable leverage he had over AP to squeeze them a bit. I don’t think the public will find it reassuring that we have no knowledge of any improprieties. Rather we need to be able to demonstrate to Arkansans that we are assuming the worst and looking diligently for anything that is comprimising.
* As for the disgruntled employee comment, I would direct you to Sarah Morris' August 5th piece in the Sun, where you are quoted as saying:
"I don't act on rumors. I don't act on disgruntled individuals on things. I act on facts.”
It’s an opaque statement, but I don’t see any other way to interpret it except the way I did.
* The news about the list serve is interesting. I was told by the outgoing chair of the faculty senate that he had to be added to the approved users list when he came into that role. The list has been very quiet. The last time I can find emails on the list serve that reflect anything other than announcements directed at faculty is in September 2015, when there was some discussion about health insurance. One of us has been misinformed. If it’s me and the list has in fact been open all that time, that still says something about the climate on campus. That the list stayed quiet in December, after the board voted to give hearty pay raises to two members of the ASU community (who were apparently doing great work) and modest one-time Christmas bonuses to the rest of us, is telling. People are afraid to speak out.
Finally I have a suggestion about how to move forward. For us to get a fresh start, we need campus leaders who are not tainted by association with Tim Hudson. As an interim solution, I propose that David Beasley be appointed as a caretaker until a new leadership team can be found. He is local but not provincial, he oversaw a dramatic transformation of the College of Engineering, he has experience at a major institution (NC State), and above all he was willing to stand up to Tim Hudson and asked hard questions about Mexico. He was forced into early retirement for his trouble, thereby demonstrating a refreshing willingness to put his integrity before his income. Appointing him in an interim role would be a clear sign that we are breaking with the past.
And a final, final note: We the faculty owe the people at the Sun a great debt for their relentless pursuit of this story. We also owe a debt to Rebecca Oliver for being so forthright with the auditors. As a staff member she did not have the protection of tenure. Those of us with tenure should look to her example, show a bit more backbone, and start speaking out.
Professor of History
Dr. Welch's response to Dr. Gilbert
Thank you for your response. While I thought it more appropriate to submit my responses directly to you as the author of the editorial, I did share my responses with university administration and the Dean’s Council. My responses were also shared with the Jonesboro Sun.
Rather than engage in what could become an endless back-and-forth via email, I am always available if you would like to meet with me personally to discuss your concerns. Additionally, I will be speaking to many of these issues directly during my comments to the faculty conference on Wednesday.
Again, I thank you for your passion for our university. I appreciate your recommendations and your feedback. It is this type of dialogue which makes higher education unique and a university even stronger.
More reaction from faculty
You'll find many reactions on the link at top on the ASU discussion board to the back-and-forth. This letter,, with sharp opinions was written by Hans Hacker
of the political science faculty:
After reading Dr. Gilbert and Dr. Welch’s dialogue on faculty list serve, one point becomes clear. A-State lacks any mechanism for communicating much of anything (factual, or otherwise) to Dr. Welch. An excellent example can be found in their discussion–the policy that no Deans could attend Board meetings without taking vacation time. Dr. Welch notes that this was news to him. How it was news to him is because we (faculty, staff, apparently even deans!) never get to talk to him. His addresses to us at the Faculty Conference held at the beginning of each fall semester have been “park and bark” affairs where we are lectured to about what he does in Little Rock, and fed data scrubbed to fit his narrative. There is no faculty involvement, no opportunity for faculty to contribute, or even to reflect on statements made by members of a high-level management team that has isolated themselves and their information from faculty and staff.
Say what you will about Robert Potts, but no crisis like the one we have experienced (and, are still experiencing) occurred on his watch. We sometimes disagreed with Dr. Potts long-term plans for A-State. But, at least we knew there was a plan, and at least he was willing to entertain our questions, explain himself, and warrant his authority to the faculty. Under the Hudson regime, we found out important information about our professional lives when it was announced in the local news media. (I made that point once to Hudson, and he thought it both humorous and true).
Dr. Welch, in his first major decision as President, showed an extraordinarily hardworking Chancellor the door. He then hired a sociopath as chancellor, and disappeared from this campus for four years while we suffered under the regime of a bully. Now, Dr. Welch wants to restore a trust, openness, and transparency that never existed. For all our sakes, and for the sake of this place we love, I hope he can modify his managerial style. I have serious doubts about his ability to do so. In particular, I note that someone who appears to be an employee of the System office felt the need to share Dr. Welch’s private response to Dr. Gilbert publicly last Thursday, despite Dr. Welch’s claims that he would prefer to keep the discussion in house. After informing us that he planned to work for transparency, Dr. Welch felt no need to pass his remarks on to the faculty directly, but these remarks found their way onto an A-State Nation forum less than one hour after he emailed them to Dr. Gilbert. The message is quite clear-this administration cares more about the opinions of A-State sports team supporters than the faculty of this university, and is prepared to deal with them more openly. You can find Dr. Welch’s entire private response to Dr. Gilbert here, along with some rather telling remarks about the faculty among the many comments: http://www.scout.com/college/arkansas-state/forums/4551-the-den/14880380-dr-welch-responds-to-gilbert-column-in-sun.
Department of Political Science
Then came a column from the Jonesboro Sun's editor about all this.
Kicking the hornet's nest
The boys down at the Arkansas State University System office in Little Rock can t seem to stop kicking the hornets nest.
Such was the case last Friday when ScoopHankins AKA system spokesman Jeff Hankins posted his boss response to a Sun guest column by ASU professor Erik Gilbert on stAte Nation, an ASU sports fan website.
Hankins was whining about having to spend the last couple weeks reviewing more than 4,800 pages of Freedom of Information Act requests, about half of which were related to the recent audits that ushered former chancellor Tim Hudson out the door.
Hankins posted ASU System President Charles Welch's response about 15 minutes after he notified The Sun that he and Welch were taking off Friday apparently because of all the work involved trying to clean up the mess Hudson left.
So why has posting Welch's response to Gilbert on stAte Nation created such a buzz on campus in Jonesboro? Two reasons: One, Welch shared his comments to Gilbert with university administration, the Dean's Council and The Sun, but he didn't share it with faculty. Two, Hankins shared it with stAte Nation, and the anonymous comments quickly turned from praise for Welch to tenure and professor bashing. A few nasty ones, actually.
Here's one from Senatobia: "Tenure is way over-rated. You can't rid yourself of the pox once a bad hire slips through the cracks. Without that fear the inmates eventually run the asylum. Wackos from academia are on practically every news broadcast and quoted in every paper. Chain of command is broken and can't be restored. That's why our education system is ranked 34th among industrialized countries even though we spend more per pupil than any other country."
And another from IndianBird: "He probably fits the mold of your typical history professor. He attended William and Mary, Vermont, and University of Boston then moved to hillbilly Arkansas to teach history. He's smarter than us and needs to remind us of that occasionally. Nothing surprising here."
Needless to say, some professors see the stAte Nation posting as a sign that it's business as usual at the Jonesboro campus and system office in Little Rock.
Hans Hacker, an associate professor of political science, pointed out the slight in a letter to the editor that was published in Tuesday's Sun. It reads, in part:
In particular, I note that someone who appears to be an employee of the system office felt the need to share Dr. Welch's private response to Dr. Gilbert publicly last Thursday, despite Dr. Welch's claims that he would prefer to keep the discussion in house. After informing us that he planned to work for transparency, Dr. Welch felt no need to pass his remarks on to the faculty directly, but these remarks found their way onto an A-State Nation forum less than one hour after he emailed them to Dr. Gilbert.
The message is quite clear this administration cares more about the opinions of A-State sports team supporters than the faculty of this university and is prepared to deal with them more openly.
Gilbert also responded to Welch's response to him and posted his comments along with the previous correspondence to a faculty list serve, which allows all faculty to view them.
Gilbert made six points in his response to Welch far too long to publish here but one stood out to me.
In Gilber' s initial column, he pointed out that Welch said he doesn't act on information from disgruntled employees.
Welch responded: "I do not believe that I was quoted as saying this, and if I was it is absolutely untrue. I would appreciate being forwarded a copy of any article that I was quoted as saying this. I did say that I do not take actions based on rumor and innuendo; I only take action when presented with facts."
Gilbert responded: "I would direct you to Sarah Morris August 5th piece in the Sun, where you are quoted as saying: 'I don't act on rumors. I don't act on disgruntled individuals on things. I act on facts.'"
It s an opaque statement, Gilbert added, "but I don t see any other way to interpret it except the way I did."
While Welch may have not intended to say he doesn't act on information from disgruntled people, that's what he said. We recorded our interview. I' s not a big deal. I just wanted to set the record straight.
As for blaming the stAte Nation posting on ScoopHankins, I think it was done with Welch's permission.
ark30inf asked a question in his post: "Are we going to continue to look for new and innovative projects like the Convention Center, Mexico Campus, and medical school partnership to bootstrap our growth or will Hudson's actions cause us to lose momentum and be more timid in seeking new opportunities?"
cwelch responded: "I can assure you that as long as I am president we will aggressively seek innovative projects and initiatives to diversify our revenue streams and advance our university. That will not change one single bit."
While it remains to be seen whether the convention center or Mexico campus will come to fruition, the on-campus medical school appears to be a great asset to the university and Northeast Arkansas.
We'll see if Welch's leadership is up to the task of changing the negative culture of Hudson's failed legacy in Jonesboro.
Leadership tip: Don t post comments to anonymous message boards.
I also have to admit that I was humbled by Gilbert's final note to Welch: "We, the faculty, owe the people at the Sun a great debt for their relentless pursuit of this story. We also owe a debt to Rebecca Oliver for being so forthright with the auditors. As a staff member she did not have the protection of tenure. Those of us with tenure should look to her example, show a bit more backbone, and start speaking out."
Side note: Tim Hudson, Welch's choice to lead Arkansas State University, was once an applicant to succeed Welch as leader of Henderson State University. A member of the Henderson search committee said it was Welch who suggested Hudson be considered. Hudson didn't end up making the final cut for Henderson leadership, but he had better luck at ASU.
All of this has spurred more discussion on the faculty list serve. One faculty member, Shivan Haran, wrote about damage from finger-pointing and encourage more constructive responses aimed at the future.
To that, Richard Freer
Now is the precise time to be asking the hard questions. For too long we faculty have waited for a better time and "cooler heads." I see nothing of the finger pointing Shivan suggests. I wonder how holding the system accountable differs from finger pointing.
I applaud Dr. Gilbert's direct, factual approach. Others need to add their voices.
I also applaud Dr. Gilbert's direct, factual approach. This is the time to ask the hard questions. The truth is the truth.
And also William Maynard
Please add my support to Dr Gilbert's call for openness and an external review of the ASU administration - 'sunshine sterilizes.'
Wednesday, Aug. 17, Welch talked to the faculty about these matters.