After almost two hours of deliberation, the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees Thursday chose Dr. Donald Bobbitt as next president of the University of Arkansas System to succeed the retiring Alan Sugg.
Bobbitt, who is provost, or the No. 2 man, at the University of Texas at Arlington, was the youngest of the four candidates. His relative youth — he’s 54 — and his current deep experience as a top college administrator figured into remarks by Board chairman Dr. Carl Johnson about how Bobbitt had distinguished himself from the group of four candidates. He said he was ready for the challenges facing higher education. He said he hoped arrangements could be made to get Bobbitt on board by the end of the year.
He’ll be offered a three-year contract at $355,000 a year, which is less than the $370,000 allowed by statute. (Sugg makes about $294,000.) In a conference call later with reporters, Bobbitt said he hoped he could move up his departure from Texas to the fall.
He said Arkansas ran deep in him on account of his past work here, as well as having children and other family members who attended the UA. Among his first priorities, he said, will be looking to increase university on-line offerings to expand higher education’s reach to more Arkansans.
Here’s a full bio on Bobbitt, who earned his Ph.D. in chemistry after a bachelor’s degree from Fayetteville.
The choice came after two days of interviews with four candidates. All had Arkansas roots. The others were John Churchill, a former interim president of Hendrix College and Rhodes scholar who heads the Phi Beta Kappa Society in Washington; Frank Oldham, a retired Jonesboro banker and former UA professor, and Stanley Reed of Marianna, a farmer, lawyer and former president of the Arkansas Farm Bureau.
Each candidate had about 90 minutes in executive session with the 10-member board and met with chancellors the 17-campus system. They also took press questions after their board sessions.
Sources close to the board have told me that Bobbitt, Churchill and Reed all had strong advocates as the deliberations began. There was some question — Johnson in early afternoon raised the possiblity of a “stalemate” — that those feelings might get in the way of a consensus choice. But that didn’t happen. Board member David Pryor, with a sick grandchild out of state, participated in the meeting by phone and he complimented Dr. Johnson on the effective and “non-partisan” way he’d handled the process.
An earlier search, led by former Board chair John Ed Anthony, had led to a secretive offer to a Missouri university official, who backed away at the last minute. He’d been offered much more than Bobbitt has agreed to take for the job. When Johnson rose to Board chair, he promised a more open process and insisted that the winning candidate would have to publicly apply and be interviewed by the Board. The result: Donald Bobbitt.
IMMODEST HORN-TOOTING: I predicted Bobbitt would be the choice in our weekly podcast last Friday.