Saturday, November 3, 2012

President Bruce McLarty, DMin.

As we predicted nearly two years ago, this week Bruce McLarty was named the fifth president of Harding University.  Over the past few days we've received a number of emails asking us "What happened?  Where'd you go?  Why'd you stop writing?"

The simple answer, of course, is that nothing happened.  Ok, that's not entirely true -- our best source left a position in the Heritage Center and our gossip triangulation became tougher.

But the choice was McLarty.  It was always going to be McLarty.  It was never going to be anyone but Bruce McLarty.


If you were someone who thought the charade of a "presidential search" indicated that this was not a preordained reality, you simply don't know the real Harding.  Oh, sure, there were board members who disagreed with this decision (even vehemently so), but those board members are marginally influential at best.  And no doubt many of you were humored by the transparency demonstrated by ACU and OC as they searched for new presidents, even thinking Harding would publish a list of finalists and ask for feedback on these finalists.

Autocracies don't behave that way.

Bruce McLarty is a nice guy and an intensely spiritual man.  But so too were the other four men considered finalists.  McLarty was picked for one reason and one reason alone: he's the one person who will be most easily controlled by David Burks.  Not only has Dr. Burks successfully "board-packed," the board members chosen to screen the process for selecting Harding's newest president were the closest confidants of Burks (Burks even performed the wedding of one of these individual's kids).  Burks will now take his place on Harding's board and continue to be the most powerful individual in Searcy.  Somewhere George Benson is smiling: GSB could never have anticipated the autocracy his college would one day become.

We at HUPS are in possession of notes from some recent faculty meetings (see just one screen shot below for proof), and in those meetings it was clearly articulated that the university considers its' "peer institutions" to be Freed-Hardeman and Oklahoma Christian.  The selection of Bruce McLarty cements this decision.  The message is clear: like Freed-Hardeman and Oklahoma Christian, Harding will see as its primary and exclusive constituency the center-right Churches of Christ in the South and Midwest.  We don't think this is a wise decision, but it is clearly the decision of today's Harding.

If you want your kids to go to a Church of Christ finishing school, send them to HU, FHU, or OC.  If you want them to go to a university, it's looking increasingly the case that you'll want them to go elsewhere.

Except for the fact that unlike Harding, Oklahoma Christian conducts itself with transparency.

We wish the best to David Burks Bruce McLarty in his new term.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Slouching towards 2013

Yesterday David Burks announced that he will retire after the 2012-2013 academic year. As a result, speculation over his successor will begin again in earnest. While his announcement is a few months later than initially expected, nothing substantial has changed in our prognosis of the situation or Burks' likely successor. Perhaps more interesting, however, is the composition of the search committee appointed to help guide the process for selecting HU's next president:

John Simmons, Columbia, TN
J.R. Burcham, Jr., Kennett, MO
Roy Reaves, Russellville, AR
Harry Risinger, Millington, TN
Rebecca Tubb, Sparta, TN
Robert Walker, Decatur, AL

A few things need to be noted about this committee. First, it's fairly obvious that Burks either handpicked these individuals for the committee or strongly influenced their selection. Among the current members of HU's board, this is definitely a center-right leaning group. HU's board is already more conservative than the average board of Church of Christ higher education institutions, and these individuals are among the more conservative of HU's current board. Practically, this means the odds of Rick Lytle or Monte Cox becoming HU's next president have increased in difficulty, and sources in the Heritage building are already anticipating that Bruce McLarty would likely be the first choice of these six individuals.

Another interesting point: none of these six individuals live in urban areas. As Churches of Christ have become more upwardly mobile and urban/suburban, many people have noted that the Harding community finds itself increasingly isolated from the leading thinkers and donors in Churches of Christ, not to mention the broader evangelical community. Its' location in Searcy only furthers this phenomenon. Unless one considers the suburb of Millington urban or suburban, each member of the HU Presidential Search Committee lives in a rural setting and attends a rural congregation of the Churches of Christ. Do any of us think they can possibly understand, therefore, how Harding is currently perceived in Dallas, Nashville, Houston, or Atlanta (not to mention the coasts)? We think not. As a result, we seriously doubt they understand the desperation and desire among many young alumni that Burks' successor be able to communicate with a broader constituency than the declining conservative, rural Church of Christ constituency whose market HU has cornered.

Over the summer, one of us had the opportunity to attend a prospective student/alumni event in a large Southern city, and two middle-aged, Church of Christ members with teenage children noted to us that everything about HU's public face and discourse seems radically backward and irrelevant to the concerns of their church, workplace, and culture. Both these parents had been to a similar event held by Lipscomb, and they had determined that Lipscomb was more fully engaged with churches and culture and were hoping and expecting that their kids were going to pick LU over HU. That viewpoint is not at all uncommon, and we hope the search committee that will help select HU's next president realizes the uphill climb the university has among alumni under 50.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Little League

This week's flap on campus again shows how incompetently the university handles issues of dissent. No one expects the university's administration to feel anything but antipathy towards HUQueerPress, but in blocking the site and responding in the way it has, the administration has demonstrated childishness, naivety, and small thinking.

That the university would attempt to block any web site in an era of mobile computing reflects Mayberry thinking. That the university would attempt to block this web site and not the web sites of Richard Dawkins, or those of Buddhist apologetics, or any other web sites far more antithetical to the university's mission, reveals its true colors.

This administration simply cannot be trusted to lead a university. The world has changed. No one expects the administration to like what happened this week. But its response has now become the story. And what a tale of incompetence and lack of savvy it is.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Unconfirmed - The Final Four

We have now been told that the HU Board of Trustees Executive Committee has met, and has pared down the list of finalists to (in no particular order):

1. Mike Williams
2. Cheri Yecke
3. Monte Cox
4. Rick Lytle

If, and again, we say if this is true, we have bittersweet emotions about the search as it currently stands. Obviously, we are not surprised that any of these individuals are on the list, as we've profiled each one's chances on this forum. But we find it utterly frustrating that the Executive Committee may have already met to discuss Burks' replacement without calling for a national search or using an executive search firm to assist them with this transition. Perhaps our sources are mistaken, and this "Final Four" list is an informal, internal list that they're currently using in anticipation of a national search that will be announced after Burks announces his retirement in April.

We certainly hope our sources are mistaken. If they aren't, we find it amusing that the Roman Catholic Church is more transparent with Papal successions that we are at Harding with our presidential successions.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

This Morning

New elders coming at the College Church! We can't wait to see who's added.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Evertt Huffard

Another potential candidate suggested by emailers is Evertt Huffard, current dean of HUGSR in Memphis. We like Evertt a great deal, but our insider sources say he has no desire whatsoever to become Harding's next president. That's probably a good thing, too, because we at HUPS don't think he'd likely be picked, primarily, though not exclusively, because of his age.

On paper, Evertt looks like an appealing candidate. He's incredibly articulate, his academic credentials are impressive, and his experience living abroad gives him a global perspective that we would love HU's next president to have. He is also very well regarded in Churches of Christ- perhaps no one else on the HU payroll is a guest speaker in as many pulpits. HUGSR deans have ascended to Christian college presidencies in the past; before Harold Hazelip left HUGSR to become Lipscomb's president in 1986, he was the odds-on favorite to replace Clifton Ganus, Jr., as HU's president. At the very least, a Huffard presidency would bring a dramatic reduction in the number of pro-Israel hawks in the lineup of the ASI distinguished lecture series.

But we don't think Evertt wants to move away from Memphis to Searcy, and we certainly know he does not want to move away from White Station to either College or Downtown. His age also likely prevents his selection - he's 60, and if the university wants its next president to serve 20-25 years (the running norm for HU presidencies), it's unlikely to pick him to succeed Burks. Moreover, the bean counters on campus would likely question his leadership of an academic unit that still relies financially on the mother ship in Searcy. His embrace of education programs at HUGSR to increase revenue is a step in the right direction, but between his age, his lack of interest in the job, and his lack of demonstrable financial acumen, we think he's not a likely finalist...even though we're quite fond of him personally.


Someone last night left the following comment on our blog:

A goup of us who are graduates met in Atlanta today and we have been following this blog very closely. My old roomie from college met with us and two other Harding friends who are married. My roomate specializes in breaking codes for blogs and believes within 10 days she can tell us who the author is. She has already found other writings by people in Searcy who blog (this is not a first time blogger)and have found some striking similarities. A recent computer science graduate atill living in Searcy is our local contact and has relationships with many faculty and staff. We will not release a name until we have an 90% level of confidence that we are correct.

We do believe the writer lives in Searcy and works at Harding and may have close relationship with a VERY high level volunteer. More later. Our group gets back together Tuesday afternoon. Have a great weekend. This is fun.

In another indication that Harding cannot handle dissent, it's clear that this commenter is lying and is trying to scare us from writing. We follow our visitor stats carefully and can confirm that in the past week only one unique visitor from the state of Georgia has visited this blog, and that user was on our page for 7 seconds, which hardly seems long enough to arouse this much passion over this site. The person who posted that comment was from either Searcy or Little Rock (we can't tell), and they're doing a lousy job of blowing smoke.

Dear commenter: you've not scared us, and your claim of being able to "break a code" is ridiculous and naive.