Columns » John Brummett

Why Hardin must go

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Let me begin by saying that I feel sorry for Lu Hardin.

This eye problem is serious. To get beset by a frightful recurrence of cancer in the middle of raging public controversy is more than any person ought to have to bear.

It's also bad, though not nearly as bad as that, to get caught up in the whirlwind when college faculty members see a chance to appear sanctimonious and get themselves in the news.

Actually, let me qualify that: Not all college faculty members are egomaniacal, holier-than-thou, self-possessed and craving of attention. But some that I've known fit the type.

Well, heck, let me go ahead and admit that I've known newspaper people who fit the type. Preachers, too. House painters, handymen, tree-trimmers — perhaps I invoke a human condition, not specific to any line.

And Lu? Let us say that there's a certain symmetry, one might say a kind of justice, to his being under attack from sanctimonious people who like attention.

You win by the media glare and you lose by the media glare.

I'll say this for those faculty people at the University of Central Arkansas: They sure know how to berate a president. They ran the last one, Win Thompson, plumb off the continent, though he did manage to abscond with generous severance pay.

All of that is to warm up to say, human compassion for Hardin aside, that it is time for Lu to be separated from the job of president of UCA.

He needs to devote his energies to fighting his damnable affliction. He has plenty of financial assets and is thoroughly vested in public retirement funds as a former legislator, state agency director and college president. He'll be comfortable in regard to personal means. With the full health recovery we all hope for, he can be back out at the state Capitol lobbying for somebody in no time.

It's simple: UCA can no longer be well-served by his leadership, so damaged are his credibility and effectiveness.

It was not lying to the press that got him. People halfway expect you to lie to the press. It was not violating the state Freedom of Information law that got him. People don't much care about that law and they halfway expect public servants to need a little secrecy now and then to get things done efficiently. It was not creating his own fiefdom at UCA that got him. People figure college presidents and school superintendents have been doing that for a long time.

This is not even about his greed for greater wealth. Actually, we may be about to elect a president of the United States who has more houses than he can recall.

What brought Hardin down — what has given faculty members a sound basis for their hand-wringing sanctimony — is that he wrote a memo arguing for secrecy for his big bonus, not to mention secrecy for some additional deferred compensation he had in mind, then had the names of three unwitting vice presidents of his typed to the bottom of this memo, as if they'd written it, which they had not.

You can call that forgery if you wish. You can call it fraud. Whatever, it was seriously wrong.

In the end, fabricating a document might be forgivable somewhere else, though I'm not sure where, but can never be excused at a college where tuition-paying students get flunked for that very thing.

If it's about the students, which it simply must be, then UCA, in order to go forward from the spurt in enrollment and profile that Lu Hardin brought, must do so with a fresh president.

Hardin stays only if his board of trustees decides that this is about his professional and political rehabilitation. But that's not what they're publicly entrusted with worrying about. The state of public education at the facility they supervise, and the integrity of that institution — those are the things they're publicly entrusted with worrying about.

If they worry about the right things, then their decision, personally anguishing as it might be, is already made.

 

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