The University of Central Arkansas Board of Trustees meets Friday and the agenda includes a report from the presidential transition committee. President Tom Courtway has indicated he plans to step down as president July 1, or earlier if a successor is found.
A search firm is currently gathering expressions of interest in the job, with a deadline of Friday for submitting a notice of formal interest. Those would be forwarded to the Board of Trustees Oct. 13. Search firms are used by many agencies in the early going to allow secrecy for potential applicants who might not want to cause problems in their current jobs until they’ve seriously committed to seeking a new position.
I can report now one potential name that’s being mentioned frequently for the position — Prosecuting Attorney Cody Hiland of Conway. He’s a UCA graduate and not a traditional prospect for a university leadership position. But he’d fit a political template that can sometimes be valuable in Arkansas. He’s friendly with Gov. Asa Hutchinson and, though prosecutors run in nonpartisan elections, he’s a solid Republican with many ties in organized GOP circles. That’s no harm these days in solid-red Arkansas.
Hiland has several friends on the seven-member UCA Board. Trustees Kay Hinkle, Bunny Adcock and Joe Whisenhunt, or members of their families, contributed almost $14,000 to his recent unsuccessful race for state Court of Appeals. He formed a relationship with Trustee Victor Green, when Green was a UCA liaison to state auditors when Hiland was investigating past issues in UCA administration. He is NOT tight with UCA faculty member Gilbert Baker, whose former Republican power broker status was damaged considerably by his involvement in a political contribution scandal, not to mention a recent DWI. Baker supported Hiland’s opponent in the last race for prosecutor.
Hiland has no higher education experience, though he’d likely point to significant managerial and judgment responsibilities in managing a prosecutor’s office.
The question would likely boil down to whether the UCA board comes up with a sterling choice from a traditional higher education track or decides that, against uncompelling choices, an adept political operator (who could hire a provost to manage many of the academic functions) might be preferable.
Some past UCA presidential choices from traditional backgrounds came to grief. Then there was Lu Hardin, who’d been both a university faculty members and a politician. That didn’t turn out so well either.
More may become evident tomorrow.