Columns » John Brummett

If Lu is really his name

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Not to beat a dissembling horse, but there are a couple of unfortunate loose ends on Lu Hardin's once-secret big bonus.

When this president of the University of Central Arkansas at Conway came to see me last week about his self-admitted “error of judgment” in saying “no” when I'd asked in May if he'd received a raise, Hardin said the $300,000 bonus had come from private money.

That was not true either. We're may be seeing the start of a pattern. I'm beginning to wonder if Lu is really this guy's name.

This money actually came from what the university calls an “auxiliary” fund made up of “excess profits,” whatever those might be, from such student-service vendors as food stands and the bookstore.

The next day, when talking to another member of the press, Hardin referred to this fund as “quasi” public and private.

There's not much “quasi” about it. There's nothing really private about it. Students pay to attend a public college. They must eat. They must have books. Otherwise they'd starve and encounter difficulty with their studies. 

The food vendors and the bookstore mark up their products. Money accumulates in the campus accounts of these services. So the UCA Board of Trustees met secretly May 2 and voted to take these students' captive expenditures and transfer them to the pocket of the university president, then not tell anyone — not the public and not even Hardin's chief lieutenants.

The lawyer among those chief lieutenants was scrambling around last week trying to figure out how to achieve retroactive compliance with state law on freedom of information and open meetings.

It would save time to put a drop box at the president's home across the street from the campus and require students to walk over once a month and make direct deposits. Or maybe Lu, if that's really his name, could send campus security officers around to dorms and classrooms for an occasional shakedown.

Hardin explains that the intention all along has been to get private donors to ante up to replenish the $300,000. But, see, they haven't yet. So, you know, he kind of fast-forwards, or takes a short cut, to the truth as he envisions it eventually to be.

That is like Roger Federer saying he defeated Rafael Nadal because he intends to do so at the U. S. Open around Labor Day, never mind that he didn't two days ago at Wimbledon.

The truth is not what you intend to do. The truth is what you did. That you intend to find another cookie to put back in the jar does not mean you didn't get into the jar in the first place.

This bonus is not really the issue. If Bobby Petrino can get $2.8 million for having bailed out on the Atlanta Falcons so that he can try to make a team out of the mess Houston Nutt left, then Hardin is entitled to a $300,000 bonus on top of the quarter-million he gets in salary.

The audacity of trying to keep this matter secret to avoid the political fallout since students were getting their tuition raised and faculty members were getting no raises — that's the issue. The arrogance of power is the issue. Truth and public accountability — those are the issues.

UCA's main trustee, businessman Rush Harding, says that, even with the $300,000 shakedown of students — I mean bonus — Hardin is the “least paid” employee on campus.

That's true if you measure effectiveness in enrollment growth and money accumulation and political prominence. And Lu, if that's really his name, has done certifiably well in those areas. You may have seen him on TV using yet more university money in commercials bragging of these successes, but not specifically asking for your vote for governor in 2014.

Someone else might argue that the “least paid” at UCA would be a professor who makes only a seventh of Hardin's raise and bonus, but who daily enhances the lives of young students by engaging and edifying them in history or a foreign language or mathematics or advanced science.

It depends on what you think a university is, an institutional competition or, to borrow a jargonist's phrase, a center of learning.

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