Colleges need more bite, less bark

Posted: February 7, 2018 at 1 a.m.

University of Arkansas officials answer questions Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2016, for the University of Arkansas System Board of Trustees including (right to left facing camera) board members Mark Waldrip, David Pryor, Ben Hyneman and University of Arkansas System President Donald Bobbitt about bonds for expansion to Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

FAYETTEVILLE -- A watchdog that would request a muzzle becomes more lapdog than watchdog it seems.

So Arkansas taxpayers and current and prospective students and faculty of the University of Arkansas system should be considerably concerned that the UA Board of Trustees would consider muzzling itself.

The board's 10 members, supposed to be the question-asking watchdogs over the UA system, are expected to consider a proposal next month by term-limited departed board Chairman Ben Hyneman that on its surface seems apt to make for a board less inquisitive and more servile to the UA President and campus chancellors.

According to an article in last Thursday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Hyneman has "proposed revisions that would allow only the Board chairman to speak for the panel as a whole, prohibit trustees from discussing the contents of closed executive session meetings, and introduce a new rule tightening how trustees request and obtain information from campuses."

The article also quoted that Hyneman wrote, "While it is appropriate and expected that trustees show interest in learning about the system and our many campuses and units, it is important that we do not bog down our leadership and staff with unnecessary work that could adversely impact the other important business underway across the system. Further, when information is prepared for just one trustee, it puts the other trustees at a disadvantage, particularly if the information is released publicly."

That a trustee appears issue disadvantaged should be of no concern to anybody. These Board meetings are not supposed just to be a politically appointed good old boys and girls club gathered for resume padding good times and choice football tickets.

Ideally, the board's 10 members have varying experiences, interests and emphasis to make some more expert than others on various issues. That's why you have 10 supposed to complement each other, listening and persuading based on all the information they individually can gather including questioning UA personnel that should never be too busy to be asked.

Nobody should want a board of trustees micromanaging every department's daily affairs, but a non-inquisitive, see no evil, hear no evil marching in lockstep board is even worse.

As the article mentioned quoting University of Florida Freedom of Information Act expert Frank Lomonte, ask Michigan State's governing body how it worked for them not inquiring about Larry Nassar, the sports doctor at Michigan State and USA Gymnastics recently sentenced to life imprisonment for committing astoundingly pervasive sexual abuses.

Think how much sooner the sexual abuse horrors within the Penn State and Baylor athletic departments could have been halted had their trustees been persistently inquisitive.

On an infinitely less important but certainly not inexpensive note, think how a more aggressively inquisitive UA Board of Trustees might have affected the contracts of what now is an $11.9 million total buyout to fired Razorbacks football coach Bret Bielema and the $83,000 per month buyout to fired Athletic Director Jeff Long.

More than ever it seems colleges need trustees with more teeth and less muzzle.

Sports on 02/07/2018