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The president of the Arkansas State University System would chair a committee searching for the next top administrator of Henderson State University as part of an agreement approved Thursday by board members for the Arkadelphia campus.

The ASU System board will meet Dec. 6 to consider approval of the merger agreement and transition plan.

The plan outlines in more detail how Henderson State -- after a summer of financial troubles -- would become part of the ASU System headed by Chuck Welch, who, before taking on leadership of the ASU System in 2011, served as president of Henderson State.

Glen Jones, Henderson State's most recent former president, stepped down in July, weeks after the school requested a $6 million state loan because of what Jones described as an "immediate need" for cash.

In approving the zero-interest loan, which must be paid back by June 30 of next year, state officials asked the Henderson board to consider joining a larger university system.

Last month, the seven-person board voted unanimously to approve a resolution to join the ASU System. The school, founded in 1890, has had a few name changes in its past but will continue to be known as Henderson State University. It has about 4,054 students.

Along with board approval, the merger requires approval from an accrediting body, the Higher Learning Commission, which pushes the target date for completing the transition to more than a year away, Jan. 1, 2021.

Welch presented the 16-page agreement to the Henderson State board on Thursday.

It states that two board members will be added to the five-person ASU System board, to be appointed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

The agreement states that "the ASU System President agrees to encourage the Governor to fill these two appointments with individuals who have significant familiarity with the Henderson campus, including those who attended Henderson."

A board of visitors for Henderson State will be created to serve in an advisory function. But the agreement states that the change will require action by state legislators.

The HSU board in July appointed the school's general counsel, Elaine Kneebone, as interim president.

"We will make every effort for the transition of Henderson into the ASU System to be as smooth as possible for everyone," Welch said in a statement. "The inclusive process for identifying the next chief executive of the institution will be similar to what we've successfully done at each of our campuses. I'm confident that affiliation with the ASU System will strengthen Henderson, our institutions and all of higher education in Arkansas."

The agreement states that "the ASU System President shall chair the search committee for any search for the position of President of Henderson" and, search committee members would be appointed by the ASU System president.

A search committee is to have "representation from the ASU System and the Henderson campus consistent with the spirit of shared governance principles," the agreement states.

The committee would "recommend candidates to the ASU System President, who will confer with the Henderson State University Board of Trustees, or Board of Visitors, prior to finalizing the hiring," the agreement states.

Jeff Hankins, an ASU System spokesman, did not respond to an email asking when a search will begin.

Fred Worth, a longtime mathematics professor and president of the Henderson State faculty senate, in a phone interview said that faculty members drew up a list of questions about the merger.

"As far as policies for promotion and tenure and things like that, we've been assured by Chuck Welch that those kinds of decisions would still be local decisions," Worth said.

He said he hoped that faculty members would be included on a search committee.

If the transition agreement is approved by the ASU System board, Kneebone will report "through" Welch to the Henderson State board, the agreement states. The Henderson State board "must remain as the official governing body of the university until final approval is received from [the Higher Learning Commission]," the agreement states.

Jones, who became president in 2012, in asking for the loan this summer described unpaid student accounts as leading to the financial troubles.

Uncertainty remains about the school's finances. Henderson State trustees were told in October that a budget shortfall for the current fiscal year could be $1.5 million. The Henderson State board has already approved budget cuts affecting pay for faculty and staff members.

At the meeting Thursday, board members were told that an update at their December meeting will be provided on whether that possible $1.5 million shortfall estimate is likely to prove accurate.

NW News on 11/23/2019

Print Headline: Board for HSU gets new details on ASU merger

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