Only in Arkansas: The Top 10 Business Stories of 2011

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Monday, Dec. 26, 2011 12:00 am  

Of the 16 largest public companies in Arkansas, half of them had increases in their stock price from Jan. 1 until the week of Dec. 19.

No. 10
UCA Makes News

The University of Central Arkansas' past two presidents kept the Conway school linked to controversy and scandals this year.

The former presidents, Lu Hardin and his successor, Allen Meadors, both drew public scrutiny throughout 2011.

Hardin pleaded guilty to two felony charges in March at federal court in Little Rock. He had resigned as president of UCA in 2008 after it was discovered that he had deceived the UCA board of trustees into giving him a $300,000 bonus, and he pleaded guilty this year to the charges arising from that deception: wire fraud and money laundering.

U.S. District Judge James Moody sentenced Hardin to five years of probation.
Meadors, who was named  as Hardin's replacement in June 2009, resigned in September after he and UCA board Chair-man Scott Roussel apologized for not revealing the conditions placed on a gift to the school. Aramark, the university's food vendor, offered $700,000 to renovate the UCA president's home but only if its contract was renewed without competitive bidding.

Other UCA board members said they were led to believe Aramark's donation was an outright gift.

No criminal charges have been filed against Meadors, but the UCA board bought out his contract. University trustee Rush Harding said the board opted to buy out Meadors' contract to show its opposition to the lack of transparency.

"And the board just felt like we needed to send a strong message that we're not going to stand for that anymore, and this [buyout] is the result of that," Harding said.
Tom Courtway, the university's general counsel, acted as interim president after the departures of both Hardin and Meadors.

Also attracting an investigation this year was a longtime Meadors' friend, Alex Chen, whom UCA hired as associate vice president for international engagement in 2010.
The university demoted Chen on Nov. 2 to professor after reviewing complaints about him and the international department.

Among the complaints was hat Chen allegedly had Chinese students work at the school more than their visas permitted, some without pay.

Earlier this month, the UCA board of trustees removed "interim" from Courtway's title, although Courtway said he would serve as president for no more than three years. That means a new president for 2015.

Courtway asked for no contract, no money in addition to his existing salary of $162,577, no car allowance and no country club memberships, according to Harding.
Courtway represents "a breath of fresh air" for UCA, Harding said.



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