Ex-UA chancellor leads study of college leaders

Posted: January 22, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

G. David Gearhart, former chancellor of the University of Arkansas, is interviewed Oct. 22, 2008, in Little Rock. Gearhart’s last day at the school was Friday.

FAYETTEVILLE -- A University of Arkansas, Fayetteville research effort to study the role of college presidents is being led by the school's former top administrator, G. David Gearhart.

Gearhart serves as director of the National Lab for the Study of the College President, a unit within UA's College of Education and Health Professions.

"My interest is to continue to contribute in a meaningful way to the professional development of the college presidency, even if only academically," Gearhart said in an email.

Gearhart, 65, stepped down as UA's chancellor in 2015 after leading the Fayetteville campus for seven years. Before becoming the university's top administrator, the Fayetteville native -- who earned both a law degree and a doctorate from UA -- worked for nearly 10 years as UA's main fundraising leader.

Gearhart remains at UA as a professor of higher education, teaching courses and now leading a research initiative he described as the "brainchild" of Michael Miller, dean of UA's College of Education and Health Professions.

"It's really a combined series of initiatives to explore how the college presidency works, how it has changed and continues to change, and what research and scholarship exists on the college presidency," Miller said.

Gearhart "was being kind" when talking about the effort's origins, Miller said in describing his own role with the project.

"As Dave kind of talked about these ideas, I'm the one who helps put that into action," Miller said.

The initiative began in late spring of 2017 and includes a new academic publication, the peer-reviewed Journal of Research on the College President, which is published online, Miller said.

"Our goal is to have that come out every December," Miller said. He said a symposium bringing together college presidents to the UA campus is scheduled for this fall.

Before that event, the goal is to launch a speaker series bringing college leaders to UA for talks about their experience as a top campus administrator. Other work includes "simply cataloging a lot of research that's out there," Miller said, and drafting "presidential minutes," brief biographical sketches of college and university leaders to include "what they wish they knew when they became president."

The new research lab has no costs associated with it, Miller said, as the work is considered a part of Gearhart's job as a UA professor. Gearhart is paid a yearly salary of $280,090, according to the university.

When he stepped down as chancellor, Gearhart cited a desire to spend more time with his family.

He wrote introductory remarks for the new journal's first issue that described difficulties in higher education.

"The American College President, not unlike higher education in general, has been under siege in recent years," Gearhart wrote, calling it "a trying time" for college leaders.

"The assault on the academy comes from many directions, state legislators, congress, the executive branch not to mention students and parents tired of tuition increases and concerned about college affordability," Gearhart wrote.

The journal aims to "contribute to America's best hope for revitalization and relevancy in the world, that being leadership in higher education," Gearhart wrote in the introduction.

The first issue included an article about what happens when faculty members issue a vote of no confidence in their college president, as well as two articles about leadership of community colleges and an article describing the management skills needed to lead "a contemporary university."

Randall Brumfield, chief academic officer for the Idaho State Board of Education, serves on the journal's editorial board.

Brumfield, who earned three degrees from UA, said that while most agree on the pressures faced by top university and college leaders, the journal can help develop an understanding of "what the best approach is to addressing all those pressures."

In an email, Gearhart said leaders can have a lack of information going into the job.

"I have found that many persons that become CEOs do not have a great deal of knowledge and expertise about the real pressures of the job. I hope the journal might be helpful to people interested in the subject," Gearhart said.

Metro on 01/22/2018