Responses to recent criticisms regarding university hires and construction projects were provided at the Feb. 13 Campus Talk during x-period in the Student Center Ballroom.
“Are we a state institution or are we part of the Conway [Area] Chamber of Commerce?” was one of many anonymous questions submitted in advance for President Tom Courtway to answer at the event. This and three other similar questions referenced appointments of former Conway Chamber of Commerce executive vice president T.J. Johnston to the newly created position of director of special university projects/community affairs position, along with former Arkansas state senator Gilbert Baker’s executive assistant to the president position. Baker began working for UCA in January 2013. Johnston’s first day in his position will be Feb. 24.
“Mr. Johnston was a necessary hire to oversee fundamentally the Donaghey [Corridor] project and to have a more effective outreach into the Conway business community,” Courtway said. “I felt his salary was one I could defend and justify and that’s what I’m doing.
Johnston has an annual salary of $105,000, according to a UCA personnel action form.
“Obviously, someone’s not happy about the pay raises that were given,” Courtway said. “We can’t ever do exactly all we want to. We have a finite amount of money and we have to do the best we can. Others can have opinions and someone has to make a decision.”
Another anonymous question posed to Courtway was about Baker working as a political fundraiser after a recent blog post in regard to the subject appeared on the Arkansas Times website. Courtway explained university employees are free to politically support whomever they want when they’re on their own time.
“I make no bones about it – I gave [U.S. Sen.] Mark Pryor money,” Courtway said.
Mentions of the Donaghey Corridor project were in reference to the current plan for a mixed-use development across the street from Harding Centennial Plaza. The proposed project will tentatively include retail stores and restaurants on the first floor with student housing on the upper floors, according to a survey emailed to the student body.
“Donaghey [Avenue] is going to change at some point,” Courtway said. “We have to be a part of that development. Someone is going to own the east side of Donaghey [Avenue] and it may as well be us as we move ahead. We’re landlocked. Let’s face it. Where do we have to go if we go? We go east.”
Other questions raised were concerned with new nursing building and the expansion and renovation project planned for the Lewis Science Center.
“The nursing building is behind the expansion of the Lewis Science Center on the academic priority list,” Courtway said. “It was going to be done with private money and through a collaborative agreement with Conway Regional [Medical Center], but that didn’t happen. Next Friday, a plan will be presented to the board of trustees for the funding and expansion of Lewis Science Center for a three-story building primarily with complex labs. If that’s approved, the project will move forward with a target move-in date of spring semester of 2017.”
Courtway said the university only has $4 million in general improvement funds available.
Assistant professor and art department chair Jeff Young said part of the issues people could have with the suggested improvement projects include the order in which they were being proposed.
“[We’re working on] the Greek Village, the Donaghey Corridor and then now [we’re] talking today about Lewis Science Center,” Young said. “It might create the perspective that academics is coming lower on the priority list than other activities. I just think that, as a university, academics should be first and foremost. The more focus on academic programs, the more that strengthens our university.”
Two more Campus Talks are scheduled for this semester March 12 and April 9 in the Student Center Ballroom. Times have yet to be announced.