The University of Arkansas Board of Trustees had a private interview session this morning with the third of four candidates for System president to succeed the retiring Alan Sugg. Up this morning was former trustee Stanley Reed of Marianna, a lawyer, farmer and former head of the Arkansas Farm Bureau.
Talking with reporters afterward, he was ready with a defense of his involvement in a couple of hot issues — work in a private school formed initially as a segregation academy in Lee County and his leadership of Farm Bureau in fighting to prohibit same-sex marriage and adoptions by unmarried couples, the latter drafted to target same-sex couples.
* RACE: Reed was a school board leader at the private Lee Academy in the 1990s. He said that the school today was an alternative to failed public schools and that, though Lee Academy has no black students and no black faculty members, it has an open enrollment policy, advertised on the website to address perceptions that the school is a racist academy. He said poverty has discouraged black students from attending. He said he didn’t have an answer for failure of public schools in the Delta. But he said he’d worked for desegregation of the Lee County Farm Bureau, that his daughter had desegregated her UA sorority and his son had a black friend who’d been a university roommate and also a member of his wedding party. He said he’d sponsored African students to attend U.S. colleges and that any suggestion he encouraged inequality “had no merit at all.”
* GAY RIGHTS: Reed acknowledged his belief in the “traditional” view of family as marriage between a man and woman. He said he’d uphold university policy that prohibits discrimination on account of sexual orientation. But did he support such a policy? His personal feeling is irrelevant, Reed said. He’d observe policy. And what if the University Board finally considers a policy to allow health insurance coverage of domestic partners? Reed said he’d have to disqualify from participating in that decision because of a “conflict of interest.”
* POLITICS: Reed said he’d made a mistake in his brief flirtation with a race for U.S. Senate in 2010. He said it had produced sleepless nights and elevated blood pressure. He said, as events proved, he had a partisan problem — too much of a Democrat for some Republicans, too much of a Republican for some Democrats. He had considered briefly, then dropped out of, a Republican primary race, eventually won by John Boozman.
* EXPERIENCE: Though he lacks academic experience, Reed said his record in law, as a trustee, in farming and in general business and public service was the “right mix” for the job.
* SURPRISE: Though he identified himself as a conservative who didn’t like tax increases, Reed spoke directly about his belief that a case could be made for an increased investment in higher education, even if it meant taxes of some sort, though he was not specific.
LATE BREAKING: Dale Charles, president of the Arkansas chapter of the NAACP, released letter this afternoon expressing opposition to Reed’s selection. It arrived after the board began deliberations. The group said retired Judge Olly Neal had recommended against an endorsement of Reed. ON THE JUMP: You’ll find a YouTube clip of a portion of Reed’s response on racial questions.
The Board’s final interview was with retired Jonesboro banker Frank Oldham. It then began deliberating on a choice about 3:30 p.m. Board chair Carl Johnson said he hoped a decision could be reached by 5 p.m. or so. Deliberations were to begin with a winnowing of candidates to the most popular, perhaps by initial secret ballot votes.
Oldham must have been a heckuva lecturer when he was a university faculty member. Meeting reporters, he gave one of the most spirited of the candidates’ talks to the press, pitching his emphasis to the chancellors with whom he’d met on a more aggressive effort to raise public investment in colleges, the need for greater diversity of student bodies and a push for greater public involvement by campuses, a change that undoubtedly would come at some expense, too. I asked him, in short, if he knew he lived in Arkansas and had he seen the 2010 election results when he talked about pushing hard for more spending on education and more affirmative action in student bodies. “What’s the alternative?” He said the only alternative was to try as hard as possible to move forward. Any other alternative is “not acceptable to me,” he said. He said his desire for public service and love of the university led him to seek the position.
The Board met yesterday with John Churchill of Washington, head of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, and Donald Bobbitt, provost at University of Texas Arlington. All four candidates have extensive Arkansas ties. Only Churchill never attended UA.