Executive Assistant to the President Gilbert Baker resigned April 2 amid a political scandal and immediately took a position as a tenured music professor. Until last week, it looked like UCA had a bright future, but that might have been a premature characterization.
Baker came to UCA in 2013 as a sort of liason to the Arkansas Legislature. Baker’s former career as a UCA music professor and his time in both the state Senate and the House of Representative assured the university he would have useful ties to state government. However, it appears his networking skills allowed him to get mixed up in shady dealings with corrupt officials.
Baker had a hand in starting several political action committees (PACs) that took thousands of dollars in donations from nursing home owner Michael Morton. The PACs then donated thousands of dollars to Circuit Judge Michael Maggio, whose campaign for Arkansas Court of Appeals was legally unable to accept campaign contributions at the time.
Days later, Maggio reduced a $5.2 million judgment against one of Morton’s nursing home to $1 million. The judgment was the result of the death of an elderly woman in the nursing home and the exchange of a campaign contribution for a huge reduction in fines has multiple ethical implications for the judge. Morton also gave a $100,000 donation to the UCA Foundation, raising questions about why he donated the money both to a PAC with which Baker was involved and to UCA.
Baker made the strange decision to stay in a tenured position in the music department. Why is anyone’s guess, but Baker should leave the university at the first available opportunity. Part of his deal when he was hired to his administrative job was that he would be given tenure again, which was also a strange move. Maybe UCA will eventually be able to get rid of all of its corrupt officials.
However, the presence of a corrupt official here will not help the problem. Baker’s skills turned out to be what brought his career in UCA administration to an end and he has become yet another cautionary tale.
Baker should be aware that all he has done is hurt UCA. In his inability to stay out of sketchy situations, he has given UCA another series of big news stories that paint it as a corrupt university. This severly undercuts the actual purpose of the university, which is supposed to be education.
Yet another distraction hurts the university, especially at the time of year when prospective students are on campus touring UCA. While the stories may make for an interesting trip to the journalism department, it makes most of the university look worse than it really is.
Hopefully the university will learn its lesson and in the future will hire administrators who don’t publicly shame the UCA. The future is full of opportunities for the university to improve, but short of a major shakeup in administration, there may be not be hope for any improvement.
UCA students, faculty and staff deserve to attend a university that is not constantly mired in controversy. UCA’s administration often does good things for the community, but the constant scandals hurt the reputation of an otherwise great school.