Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Legislative Advice Worth Heeding

State Senator Sue Madison has always been able to make that fine distinction between supporting the University of Arkansas and blindly doing the bidding of the administrators at that institution. She has single-handedly secured millions in capital funding for essential academic programs, and she has boldly spoken out on issues where she thinks the administrators could do better -- saving staff jobs, supporting neglected academic programs, and standing up for students -- and the administrators resented it every time.

Today, Senator Madison has once again taken a stand on principle and asked the UA Board of Trustees to do the right thing, or rather, not to do the wrong thing, which would be to purchase the Fayetteville High School. She points out that the property is not needed for academic purposes and will certainly cost far more than $59 million to remodel and maintain. She was gracious enough not to mention what it would do to the University's image among legislators and how that would most certainly reduce any enthusiasm for increased state funding in the future.

"You are being asked to consider purchasing the Fayetteville High School property for $59,000,000. Throughout State government budgets are being cut and vacant positions go unfilled. This is the time to exercise great restraint in expending public resources and making large commitments of future funds," wrote Senator Madison in the letter reprinted below from the Arkansas Times Blog.

"The University of Arkansas has undertaken many construction projects during the past eleven years and our bonded debt has increased dramatically. Several properties have been purchased, and many new non-classroom buildings have been constructed. Yet, tuition is raised every year and faculty and staff salaries remain depressed.

"The Fayetteville High School property is not adjacent to the teaching or research areas of the campus, and the announced purchase price is only a fraction of the cost. The buildings are not suitable for immediate use and will need considerable retro-fitting at additional expense. Debt service and maintenance of the property will preclude addressing more pressing and central educational needs for many years tocome.

"Please consider the burden this property will be on our students, the campus, and Arkansas tax payers. We do not need this property, and I ask that you decline the offer to purchase it."

The UA Board meets this Friday. It is likely that Jim Lindsey, an exemplar of the board's commitment to intellectual excellence and concern for students' financial burdens, will get his way. They will vote to buy the 40 acres for tailgate party pavillions and send the bill to students for the next 30 years.

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