Compensation a Lulu

The hits just seem to keep coming for Lu Hardin, president of the University of Central Arkansas.

First it was the secret $300,000 bonus via an early deferred compensation payment from public funds that Hardin returned after it became a public issue. He said at the time he thought it was from private funds. But then the revelation came that he had sought the payout and wanted to keep it secret.

He did right by returning the money, and the UCA Board of Trustees did right in suspending discussion of an additional $150,000-a-year deferred comp payment.

But the big statewide news of late was the compensation packages of the presidents or chancellors of the state universities and colleges.

It's hard to see what Hardin would have done with that extra money. His total compensation is $510,667.

That comes from a $253,774 base salary; car, $11,651; house, $27,196; cook, lawn service, building maintenance, utilities, etc., $55,252; deferred compensation, $60,000 (this is the figure accruing annually under a deal approved by the board three years ago); retirement match, $25,377; health insurance, $5,135; life insurance, $1,112; club dues, $11,277; cell phone, $2,893; and a $57,000 expense account funded by the UCA Foundation.

Let's see now. He's living rent free; he doesn't pay for a car or insurance or cell phone or dues to three country clubs; no utilities or insurance premiums. Is there anything left for which he actually needs to open his wallet?

Although Hardin has received the most attention he ranks only fourth among the university leaders in pay.

Coming in atop the list is Arkansas State University System President Les Wyatt with annual compensation of $540,610. No. 2 is B. Alan Sugg, president of the University of Arkansas System, at $538,722.

The deputy director of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education, Steve Floyd, said the survey of total public and private compensation for the heads of colleges and universities found that all of them have complied with state law.

Except, we would argue, when it comes to complying with the Freedom of Information Act. Arkansas Business routinely requests and publishes the salaries of the "highest-paid state employees," and almost all these public servants have appeared on those annual lists.

The latest "total compensation" we published for Hardin was $252,874 – which was merely his base salary in the last fiscal year. Similarly, we were given what we now know was the laughable figure of $217,541 for Les Wyatt.

While we requested all compensation – and included compensation other than salaries in the lists when it was provided – we clearly weren't publishing the reliable list we thought we were.

You can bet we'll do better in the future.

While all are paid reasonably or exceptionally well, we don't have a quarrel as much with the pay as with the lack of transparency about the public's money.