Lisa Hammersly of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports this morning on some intrigue surrounding a big party planned Friday to start a billion-dollar University of Arkansas fund-raising drive.
The party has been scaled back. An initial promise of private support from an unidentified donor for the party apparently was withdrawn and other money had to be found, including from the Athletic Department. There’s apparently lingering unhappiness among various UA boosters about, choose your poison: 1) the $160 million ($226 million counting bond interest) football stadium expansion or 2) the abrupt departure of Chris “Brother Honky” Wyrick as the campus’ lead fund-raiser. His departure followed an investigation of allegations of harsh treatment of staff members. He nominally left of his own volition with no public finding of any misconduct. (See this for how Wyrick came to be known as Brother Honky.)
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Politics at the University of Arkansas? Say it ain’t so.
I believe events outlined in this story have at least tangential connection to an earlier item reported here. This concerned bids on the stadium project, where a construction company owned by the Dillard Department Store people, got chosen for the work despite a slightly lower score than that of another Arkansas contractor, Nabholz. I reported then the happenstance that Brother Honky had joined William Dillard III, CEO of the department store chain, on a ski trip to Dillard’s place in Aspen. Bro. Honky’s host on the slopes is member of the executive, campaign steering, and corporate and foundation relations committees for the billion-dollar fund drive at UA. Construction work was not discussed, Wyrick said at the time.
Around the time I wrote this item, I also asked new Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz about proliferating rumors that an outside contributor was going to foot the fund-raising gala bill, as a log-rolling favor to a prominent Arkansan for help on a Florida construction project by the rumored contributor. This is what he wrote in July:
Yes, I heard about the story that you referred to a couple of weeks ago. I have been looking into the story and at this point there is nothing that concerns me about how our campaign launch is being funded. Campaign launch planning, including the gala, began more than a year ago and the budget, including expenses leading up to the launch, were allocated months before I arrived. Without compromising the identity of a donor who wishes to remain anonymous, I can confirm we have received a gift in honor of our gala – the proceeds of which will be used for need-based scholarship support for Arkansans (which is my highest priority for the campaign). We haven’t received any additional funds in support of the gala that I am aware of. By the way, I have placed a cap on the expense for the gala.
Also, if you’re suggesting the UA is offering favors in return for philanthropy, that’s simply not so and I’m sure you are aware of the numerous checks and balances in place to ensure appropriate selection of vendors.
It would appear from Hammersly’s story today that some glitches in gala fund-raising developed, along with expressions of concern about the expenditure at a time of rising tuition for students.
Her article included mentions, too, of suggestions of retaliation by people Wyrick had cultivated against UA in future giving. In that vein, it should be said that supporters of Wyrick also recently emerged, anonymously, to defend his actions as a department head. An August letter in his defense was widely circulated. It, too, bears on UA fund-raising strategy, with criticism of Steinmetz’s move to place more emphasis on departmental fund-raising as opposed to an effort solely headed by Wyrick’s former division.
Politics at the UA? Say it ain’t so.