Columns » John Brummett

Another transgression



If you're looking to move on from Lu Hardin, then you'd best move on from this space, at least today. There's something rather significant left to say.

It is not enjoyable, but something quite the opposite, to find it necessary to engage in public commentary that berates a vibrant, accomplished man whose damnable eye cancer has returned.  

It is no fun to confront revelation upon revelation of egregious misbehavior in a man whose public career coincided with your own journalistic one and with whom you've always had pleasant associations, his transparent ambition and unctuousness notwithstanding.

Yet a new distressing transgression got disclosed the other day and simply cannot go unnoticed.

First, to set it up and construct the context:

Hardin, in executive session with the Board of Trustees for the University of Central Arkansas, where he is president, accepted in May a secret accelerated payment of a $300,000 deferred bonus.

Then he said “no” when asked by the press if he'd gotten a raise.

Then, having been found out, he said the $300,000 had come from private funds, though it actually had come from captive student fees.

Then he returned the money.

Then it came out that he'd actually requested the $300,000 bonus and also had asked for $150,000 a year in deferred compensation.

It further came out that he had made these brazen requests in a memorandum to board members in which he said he didn't want a straight raise because that would be publicly reportable and therefore look bad, considering that professors weren't getting raises.

It came out that board members were given a page of talking points asserting that neither the bonus nor the deferred compensation had to be revealed to the public under the Freedom of Information law. This page bore, at the bottom, the typed names of three of Hardin's vice presidents — Jack Gillean, vice president for administration; Barbara Anderson, executive vice president, and Paul McClendon, vice president for finance.

So here's the breathtaking new development: Hardin had to admit Friday to reporters and the trustees that those three vice presidents didn't actually prepare, sign or even see that one-page document with their names at the bottom.

Lu wrote it. He had his secretary type the three names. He did not present the document for those vice presidents' perusal or signature, or even as a mere courtesy, before letting the board members assume reasonably that these named vice presidents had submitted the document to them.

Forgery is a strong word. So I'm merely going to call this the latest evidence of a recent pattern of Hardin's dishonesty.

I'm going to say that Hardin has been caught red-handed three times now. I'm going to fall back on the difficult conclusions of a few days ago, those about greed and the arrogance of power.

I'll stop there with the characterizations. Yours are as good as mine, anyhow.

But I want to make sure your characterizations are based on a clear understanding of what happened. And you should have benefit of Hardin's side.

He says he'd talked about all these issues on the document with his three vice presidents. He says he was merely trying to compile what they'd advised him. He acknowledges, in retrospect, that he didn't handle it, or much of anything else lately, properly.

Rush Harding, the UCA trustee, says the three vice presidents were asked questions about the issues on the document by the trustees, though, he admits, they were never actually shown the document bearing their names. Harding defends Hardin, saying Lu was merely reporting on his own fact-gathering discussions with key administrative personnel answerable to him.

But Gillean says he doesn't agree with the document's advice about the Freedom of Information Act's not applying, and he says he never gave such advice.

Hardin could have asked the three to write their own report for him and the board, and, since the matter concerned his own pay, stayed out of it. But he didn't.

Or he, after compiling this document himself, could have asked his vice presidents to read, revise and sign off on it rather than merely have their names affixed to it unbeknownst to them. But he didn't.

He might have added the name of Tom Courtway, the UCA general counsel. But, perhaps fearful of appropriating the spirited Courtney's unknowing and unwilling alliance, he didn't.

Hardin could have been less covert, less autocratic, less sneaky, less self-serving. But there I go characterizing again.

Finally, we all want Lu Hardin to get well and be well. We want that for many reasons, one of which is so he can stand up to this kind of criticism with good health and vigor.

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