John Diamond, the former top PR man at the University of Arkansas, came to mind twice within the last few days.
Once was when I got confirmation that UA Athletic Director Jeff Long had banned the Arkansas Blog from following his official Twitter account for commenting that a $32 million TV contract helped the Athletic Department balance its books. I’m guessing Diamond, who earned national acclaim for his assist of Long in the firing of Bobby Petrino, might have suggested a less prickly approach to media relations.
Then I got a news release about Diamond’s book. “Please Delete: How Leadership Hubris Ignited a Scandal and Tarnished a University.” Diamond recounts former UA Chancellor David Gearhart’s efforts to cover up financial mismanagement in the university’s advancement division in 2013, a coverup that Diamond resisted. He was fired. Gearhart departed with handsome walking-away money (and a building has been named for him on campus).
Several legislators participated in a UA effort to squelch a thorough investigation orchestrated by Trustee John Goodson (now busy trying to elect his wife chief justice of the Supreme Court). Ultimately some of the laundry was hung out to dry. But time passed and the story was consigned to the library shelves with other university dustups of yore.
\Diamond kept working on a detailed rehash, including a look at prosecutor work papers. His book is dense with detail and as bureaucratic as you’d expect from an account of a giant administrative structure. I didn’t need persuading that politics had trumped full disclosure in the affair. Here’s what the news release for Diamond’s book says is new in his account:
* Calendar records that raise new questions about the truthfulness of UA’s top finance officials when they met with state auditors.
* Incriminating conclusions noted in prosecutors’ draft report that were deleted by a higher-up the day before the report was issued.
* Gearhart’s 3 a.m. email to Diamond and university lawyers to discourage them from releasing an alarming internal review that was being sought by an inquiring reporter.
* The apparent months-long failure of university officials to notify a billionaire trustee [John Tyson] that his seven-figure donation had been inappropriately diverted to an unrelated account to camouflage a deficit there.
* A terse email exchange with an auditor in which Gearhart denies ever being interviewed by auditors about the overspending, even after being presented with the detailed documentation of multiple interviews in which Gearhart participated.
* Repeated instructions during the scandal to “delete” email exchanges and notifications in order to keep them from the eyes of investigating reporters.
* Off-cycle pay raises (one totaling $40,000) given to key employees with direct knowledge of actions and events that top university officials had denied under oath.
* An email from the chair of the university’s board of trustees to a colleague justifying why they should take no disciplinary action against senior university officials who had knowingly withheld public records from a reporter.
Not exactly John Grisham material. Nor is it a heroic account of gridiron glory, suitable for the coffee table. But it’s worth reading. I hope the new chancellor has a copy. Because some of the staffers are still around, not to mention legislators (from both sides of the fight) and reporters who’ll recall how Gearhartgate went down should future controversies arise. And the “Brother Honky” chapter (some background on that title here) illustrates how entwined university advancement was and remains with athletics, by budget twice as big as any other department on campus.
The book is available at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and also johndiamondbooks.com