Friday, January 11, 2008

Reflections on John White's Departure

Yesterday's news, or at least yesterday's newspaper fare, was all about the "resignation" of University of Arkansas Chancellor John White. Mostly, it was reprinting the press release and selective events compiled by the UA Office of University Relations. The Northwest Arkansas Times story ignored any academic assessment but quoted Bill Ramsey saying, "John really stepped up for the chamber." There were some snippets of the various interviews White granted to frame his side of the events, and he swore on The Bible for a reporter that there was no pressure from anyone for him to resign.

Now that the smoke is starting to clear, we're starting to get some analysis of events that goes beyond the press release and ventures into more sober public speculation. Well, not from the Northwest Arkansas Times, which today had a hard-hitting editorial about how people should pay their dues to rural volunteer fire departments, but from major newspapers and minor bloggers.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette editorial today said the whole Houston Nutt episode, from the email to the $3.6 million going away gift was embarrassing. "John White was left looking like a sucker, maybe because he had been." And, lest anyone forget, "There was the messy firing of Nolan Richardson, and John White’s first embarrassing, disastrous and of course futile attempt to have Frank Broyles retire. It ended with The Coach saying, I don’t think so. After that encounter, it was all too clear who really called the shots at the university. And it wasn’t John White.

"The chancellor’s stumbles extended beyond the athletic department. His early effort to do away with the University of Arkansas Press was finally abandoned, thank goodness. But he went through with the closing of the university museum. And he never hesitated to get rid of old campus landmarks in order to make room for parking lots. A preservationist he wasn’t, neither of the printed word nor architectural history. For a chancellor at a major state university, Dr. White had a remarkable anti-intellectual bent. . . .

"There’s actually much to admire about John White’s career at the University of Arkansas. That’s why it’s all the more disappointing that he allowed the bog of athletics to suck him in and even define his tenure. But all too often, the chancellor’s clumsy efforts left him looking, shall we say, less than straightforward. Also, weak and dithering."

A new blogger in town, the amusing Fayetteville Flyer, put it this way: "My interpretation of this recent news is that whoever holds the reigns of Mr. White’s paycheck was about to cut him off the payroll entirely and make him out to be the fool. Or maybe White was was given an ultimatum – step down as Chancellor, and we’ll retain you in a bullcrap position, with pay, to keep you from speaking about how f’ed things were around here. Either way, he messed up and the UofA didn’t want him dipping his fingers in their business anymore."

The blogger's final assessment acknowledged, "I don’t have enough information to base any type of opinion on White and his accomplishments at the UofA, but I dare say that he was the last key to ridding ourselves of bad karma. I wish him no ill will, but he leaves a sour taste in my mouth." That sounds about right.

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