The Teflon Administrator (Editorial)

Just what does it take for a high-ranking, high-earning educational administrator to be fired? We’re starting to get the picture.

Running a deficit in the $4 million range wasn’t enough to get Brad Choate booted from the University of Arkansas, at least not on the spot. He was relieved of his duties as vice chancellor for advancement last year but was allowed to continue collecting his $350,000 salary until June 30.

Chancellor David Gearhart says that’s because Choate, while defensive, didn’t make waves. Gearhart had hoped to give him time to find another job, although that didn’t happen.

Choate’s replacement, Chris Wyrick, had hoped to ease out his problem employee the same way. He was planning to demote the university’s chief spokesman, John Diamond, but continue to pay his $173,354 salary until the end of the year, giving him time to find another job — which Diamond had been seeking anyway.

But when Diamond did not go gentle, as the poet said, Wyrick came as close to firing him on the spot as Diamond’s contract would allow: He gave him 30 days’ notice, citing a working relationship “beyond repair.” In Wyrick’s corner is Chancellor Gearhart, which is all that matters.

We’re not sure what to make of Diamond’s assertion that he was fired because he was attempting to follow the state’s Freedom of Information Act, especially when Gearhart assures that his policy is to follow the letter of the public information law. It’s possible that both can be true, but it doesn’t seem likely.

We can say this is starting to look like a pattern at the University of Arkansas: Keeping problematic administrators on the public payroll until some other employer takes them off Chancellor Gearhart’s hands. That might be acceptable in private industry, although we’d hardly call it common practice, but it doesn’t seem to be the best stewardship of taxpayer dollars.