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UA to go with interim art chief in 2018-19

Ex-job candidate voices concern over ‘unreasonable’ goals in donor agreement by Jaime Adame | August 7, 2018 at 3:10 a.m. | Updated August 7, 2018 at 3:10 a.m.
This April 17, 2017, photo shows Old Main on the University of Arkansas campus in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- An interim director will lead the University of Arkansas School of Art in 2018-19, with travel records showing details of thus far failed efforts to hire a top leader.

Two finalists in June accepted jobs at other universities, leaving UA still searching for an arts leader despite unprecedented gifts announced last year of $160 million in support of arts education.

"I think everyone was a little surprised, but we are an agile team and a team that believes in finding the right person to fill this important role," Mathew McConnell, a UA art faculty member since 2011 and the school's interim director as of July 1, said in an email.

Details about the next steps in the search have yet to be announced, but "we are hopeful for a new director to be in place by fall 2019," Kayla Crenshaw, the school's communications director, said in an email.

Meanwhile, one former candidate expressed continued interest in UA to the Democrat-Gazette, while another said he withdrew in part over concerns about what he called "unreasonable" goals for the school as laid out in the donor agreement between UA and the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation.

The national search for a director began last year after the August announcement of the $120 million Walton gift, described by UA as the largest ever in support of a U.S. university's art program. The family of Walmart founder Sam Walton established the foundation, which in 2002 was announced as giving $300 million to UA.

[DOCUMENT: Read UA grant agreement]

The most recent Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation gift was followed by a December announcement of $40 million from the Windgate Charitable Foundation, the largest single grant ever from the organization.

"These gifts will quickly and I think unquestionably establish the university as a center of excellence in art education, art history, graphic design and studio arts," Chancellor Joe Steinmetz said last month at a meeting of the state Higher Education Coordinating Board.

The university brought four finalists to campus in late March and early April for public presentations, while travel records show an earlier, unannounced round of interviews done in January that brought 12 candidates to the 21c Museum Hotel in Bentonville.

One of the four finalists, James Rolling Jr., said in an email that he never withdrew from consideration for the UA job.

"I remain excited that there are fabulous possibilities here for building a School of Art that is a model for the nation," said Rolling, a dual professor of art education and teaching and leadership at Syracuse University in New York. "Toward that end, I am continuing to sketch out new ideas for growth, outreach, and partnerships with the hope that I'll have an opportunity to share my expanded vision at the proper time."

Kevin D. Murphy, professor and chair of history of art at Vanderbilt University, said in a phone interview that he took part in the January round of interviews but withdrew from consideration after reviewing the Walton donor agreement.

"It wasn't the prospect of the Waltons being too deeply involved. It was really that document, and what had been kind of promised to them, the outcomes that I did not think were doable," Murphy said.

He said the agreement "set unreasonable expectations for the director that nobody could meet, including myself."

The agreement states that the School of Art "will aspire to a ranking of 25th or higher in the United States according to US News & World Report, and will hold itself to a floor rank of at least 50th within ten years (compared to current 173rd)." Another goal states that the school's doctoral program in art history -- which did not exist at the time the gift was announced -- "will aspire to a ranking in the top 25 of similar programs in the nation (out of a total of 58 programs as of 2010)."

Murphy said he would advise UA to "revisit that donor agreement with the donor and some knowledgeable outside administrators from similar institutions."

Todd Shields, dean of the UA's J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, said in a statement that the goals are "ambitious."

"Nevertheless, we believe these goals are obtainable. The new buildings and state-of-the-art equipment, the number and quality of faculty in each area, and the quality of students we will be able to recruit will be at a level we haven't seen before," said Shields, who is responsible for making the director hire in consultation with Steinmetz and Provost Jim Coleman, a UA spokesman has said.

In reviewing the performance of a director, rankings "will simply be one aspect," Shields said.

Murphy said he also was concerned about a budget entry for the director's salary in a proposal included with the donor agreement. Under a column titled "UA Annual Commitment," a $130,980 salary is listed for the School of Art director, plus $10,000-30,000 in "fringe" benefits.

Shields said the figure "is the base salary of what a full professor in the School of Art would generally be making."

He said the salary for a new director "will be commensurate with their experience and will be competitive with the salaries of directors of schools of art and deans of fine arts colleges."

Travel records show how two finalists, Elizabeth "Cassie" Mansfield and Andrew Schulz, each returned separately to Arkansas for another visit weeks after their publicly announced campus presentations.

Yet instead of joining UA, Mansfield will become head of Penn State University's Department of Art History and Schulz has started a job as dean of the University of Arizona's College of Fine Arts.

Schulz is making $240,000 annually, a University of Arizona spokesman said in June. Penn State University generally only releases the school's 25 highest-paid non-officer employees and has not released Mansfield's salary.

Faculty from UA and leaders from Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art took part in wine-and-dine sessions with Schulz and Mansfield that added up to $1,001.51, according to University of Arkansas Foundation payment authorization forms for the unannounced visits.

The records, which include receipts from Bentonville and Fayetteville restaurants The Hive, Leverett Lounge and Fiamma, were released under the state's public disclosure law.

Crystal Bridges' board is chaired by Alice Walton, who in a blog post when the $120 million gift was announced described collaboration between the foundation and the museum, which opened in 2011.

Rod Bigelow, the museum's executive director, and Margi Conrads, the museum's director of curatorial affairs, dined with the two finalists, records show.

"The meetings provided an opportunity to discuss how we envision the museum working with the University strategically over the next several years," Beth Bobbitt, the museum's public relations director, said in an email.

When asked in June if either Mansfield or Schulz had been offered a job by UA, Crenshaw said in an email: "The selection process hadn't concluded, so no offer was made to either candidate."

Records obtained for 2018 show approximately $50,000 spent on the search, based on invoices from search firm Korn Ferry and payment authorization requests to the University of Arkansas Foundation.

The donor agreement with the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation includes an August 2017 proposal with a "first year grant budget" listing $290,000 "to employ a national search firm to conduct a comprehensive search" for a director.

Shields said discussions are ongoing "about how we will move forward with Korn Ferry."

The School of Art has moved to add seven faculty members this fall, raising the total to 41, according to Crenshaw. A total of $161,900 in scholarship aid also has been awarded, she said.

Shields said that as far as the search, "no candidates are under consideration" as "the search process continues to be recalibrated and will be finalized once all faculty are back on campus."

McConnell, 39, the interim director, makes a salary of $106,250 in his new role, up from $70,500. UA also named Marty Maxwell Lane, an assistant professor, as interim associate director. Lane makes $106,250, up from $71,500.

McConnell replaces Jeannie Hulen, who served as the school's first interim director but is teaching in Ghana in 2018-19 as a Fulbright Scholar.

He said gift money is already boosting opportunities for students to attend summer workshops and internships nationwide, as well as supporting faculty research.

"There is no one in the School of Art wondering what to do in the absence of a permanent director. Everyone is hard at work and ready to do what needs to be done to continue building a bright future for the school," McConnell said.

A Section on 08/07/2018

Print Headline: UA to go with interim art chief in 2018-19

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