University of Central Arkansas acknowledged in a news release Tuesday afternoon that a discussion about a recent report that is critical of the Board of Trustees and its chairman during an executive session of the Aug. 20 board meeting violated the state Freedom of Information Act.
The discussion pertained to an accreditation report by the Higher Learning Commission.
"This discussion, albeit brief, was inappropriate under the provisions of the state’s Freedom of Information Act dealing with executive sessions," the release states.
Contacted about the release, board member Rush Harding III said that during the executive session, UCA President Allen C. Meadors told board members they were being given a sealed envelope that contains "something to read once (they got) home."
Harding said Meadors was reluctant to discuss what was in the envelopes, which were copies of the report completed by a group of the Institutional Actions Council of the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. But as board members continued to "press" Meadors about what was in the envelopes, Harding said Meadors told board members that the packages contained copies of a report that was critical of the Board of Trustees and its chairman, Dr. Harold Chakales.
"As soon as that was said, it immediately got opened by some members of the board," Harding said.
"As a board member, you don’t always think of the consequences of what is discussed in executive session," Harding said. "Some thought that it would be OK to discuss the matter in executive session, but (UCA General Counsel) Tom Courtway later said it was inappropriate to discuss in executive session."
Harding said that after the report was opened, some board members took issue with some of the comments in the report.
"It was a very brief discussion about ‘I never said this,’ ‘I was misquoted,’ ‘That was taken out of context,’" Harding said. "The discussion was stopped when the president was asked if he would contact the committee and see if this draft report might be changed in its final form."
Harding said the FOI violation was solely the responsibility of board members.
"My recollection is that the president was hesitant to say what was in the envelopes, and when pressed forward, he said, ‘This is a draft report ... that is critical of the board and its chairman,’" Harding said. "(Meadors) did everything he could to get those conversations quieted and get the meeting moving back in the right direction.
"In terms of the discussion, it was never intended to be discussed; it wasn’t an agenda item. It was a mistake by the board when they were told the report in the packet was critical of the board and chairman."
The report in question was compiled after a visit to the UCA campus by an accreditation team. Several sections of the report are critical of the Board of Trustees.
"UCA’s Board of Trustees requires considerable attention," the report states. "Once can only wonder how this Board would have approached the 2010 reaccreditation visit if a presidential transition had not occurred."
The report continues, "It is not apparent that the Board of Trustees as a group understands the task before them."
The report states that Chakales was unable to attend the scheduled meeting with the visiting team, so he spoke with two of the evaluators over the phone.
"That conversation was troubling to the team members," the report states. "The Board chairperson exhibited little understanding of the seriousness of the institution’s financial situation as a public institution, calling it ‘just a cash problem.’ ... He seemed uninformed about the university. The role of the president was to ‘run the university’ and the board would only step in if the president ‘got out of whack.’"