Higher Education Chief Staying Ahead of the Curve

Higher Education Chief Staying Ahead of the Curve
Maria Markham, director of the Arkansas Division of Higher Education (Karen E. Segrave)

Maria Markham is Arkansas’ director of higher education. And higher ed has doggedly remained her focus through weeks of sheltering at home with “two 12-year-olds, two 8-year-olds and a 5-year-old.”

“I’m blessed because I’m married to a teacher,” said Markham, who took over the Arkansas Division of Higher Education in 2016. “I have delegated all the home teaching to him!”

Her husband, Jeff Haigwood, teaches math at Southside Junior High School near Batesville, ordinarily driving 40 minutes north from their home in Searcy while Markham drives 40 minutes southwest to her office in Little Rock.

But since the pandemic struck, she and Haigwood have worked from home while tending their children, who normally ride with Haigwood to school at Southside. “To top things off, we have one child with autism and one with dyslexia,” Markham said. “So [Haigwood] is getting to stretch his teaching muscles.”

Markham got a little personal, unsurprising in these harrowing days, in a telephone interview on the looming financial crisis in higher ed. (More on that in next week’s issue.)

Asked how she was getting along, she said surprisingly well. “It’s bizarre, but it’s not too bad. I’m getting to spend a lot of time with the kids, and I don’t mind it.”

She said her division was working on a return-to-work plan for its offices, which are being deep cleaned.

“We’re working on a rotation plan now, with some workers in on Tuesdays and Thursdays and others on Mondays and Wednesdays. You have to wear a mask and nobody is required to come in at this point.”