Former state Sen. Gilbert Baker announced his unpaid leave of absence Jan. 15, in effect this spring semester, at UCA due to controversy surrounding a lawsuit he is involved in.
Michael Morton, owner of Greenbrier Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center, as well as former Faulkner County Circuit Court Judge Mike Maggio, are also listed as defendants in the lawsuit.
The case arose from the death of Martha Bull, a patient in Morton’s nursing home. She is believed to have died due to negligence.
Though not yet charged of a crime, Morton and Baker had contributed lump sums of money to political action committees to support Maggio’s run for appellate court judge.
In return, it is alleged that Maggio reduced Morton’s sentencing by $4 million.
Baker has avoided confrontation about his involvement with and motives for the contributions, but openly spoke about his decision to take leave from his music appreciation professor position.
Though Baker says his leave of absence is simply to avoid further controversy and speculation, it appears suspicious that an innocent man would willingly give up a position at a university where he has worked on and off since 1979.
While unconfirmed, it seems as if Baker is open to discuss his resignation from UCA to make it seem like it is unrelated to his involvement in the lawsuit and shift focus away from the university.
However, Baker has also proposed plans to take a new direction in his field of work while away from teaching.
It is certainly possible that Baker finds it best to remove himself from the public eye in order to let time reveal the truth about the allegations.
This may be in his best interest, as well as a way to advance in other areas he hasn’t had time to pursue.
The position Baker is in now is similar to the one he was in April 2014.
Last year, Baker resigned from his title as executive assistant to UCA President Tom Courtway. From there, he returned to his job as a teacher at the university. When commenting on his resignation and reasons to step down, Baker has showed a pattern of vagueness, without delving into detail.
Considering the dilemma he is facing, it might be beneficial to be more self-explanatory if trying to convince the public that the accusations against him are not true.
For now, nothing can be certain about Baker and whether his contributions to the political action committees were corrupt.
Because Baker is involved with UCA, the university’s image is at risk of being tainted due to association.
After finally beginning to rebuild the university’s image after scandals surrounding former UCA presidents Allen Meadors and Lu Hardin and former chief of staff Jack Gillian, now comes another UCA employee with the potential to put UCA in a bad light once more.
How can the university attract future students if instead it keeps repeatedly attracting corrupt staff?
If worse comes to worse, it is crucial to remember that affiliation does not always breed support or acceptance of one’s individual choices.
Baker worked for UCA and though his actions have landed him in a messy situation, the university did not condone them.