A legislative panel Tuesday signed off on the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences' proposed contract to spend up to $634,470 with a Georgia-based firm to consult about developing a dental college.
State Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, questioned whether UAMS actually wants to establish such a college.
The Legislative Council's Review Subcommittee also completed its review of the University of Arkansas System's proposed contract of up to $155,000 with a Florida-based search firm to assist in the recruitment of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock's next chancellor. State Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, questioned the cost of hiring search firms to fill state jobs.
On the dental school matter, UAMS proposed contracting with Atlanta-based Academy for Academic Leadership for up to $634,470 from Jan. 1, 2016-June 30, 2017, according to the Bureau of Legislative Research. A UAMS spokesman said Tuesday night that the first phase of the contract is a feasibility study costing $48,000, and UAMS officials would decide later whether to proceed with other phases of the contract.
The firm will provide "consultation regarding the development of a comprehensive UAMS Dental College," the Bureau of Legislative Research reported.
During the subcommittee's meeting, Elliott wondered, "How serious is this?
"Is this something that Arkansas is prepared for or capable of doing within the confines of everything we are doing?" she asked. "I have been kind of operating under the assumption that we are in no position to start a dental school and maybe this is just going to show me where I am wrong."
Cherry Duckett, UAMS' vice chancellor of institutional relations, said the feasibility study is phase one of a three-phase contract and it's funded by "an outside resource -- not from UAMS. This is strictly to see ... if we even need to go further."
UAMS sought bids for the contract before deciding to go with the Academy for Academic Leadership, she said. The firm recently conducted studies for four other schools and "two of those elected to go forward and two did not," Duckett said.
The consulting firm will review the need for a dental college at UAMS, whether it is financially feasible and whether Arkansas is better off continuing to send dental students to colleges out of state, she said.
After the meeting, UAMS spokesman Leslie Taylor said Delta Dental has agreed to pay the $48,000 cost of the feasibility study as a gift to UAMS. UAMS officials will decide later whether to proceed with the second phase's identification of potential external practice sites and the third phase's program development and accreditation, she said.
Arkansas is one of 14 states that does not offer a pre-doctoral dental education program, according to the American Dental Education Association. All Arkansans who want to specialize in the field have to go to out-of-state universities to complete their education.
The UA System proposed contracting with the Miramar Beach, Fla.-based search firm of Greenwood/Asher & Associates Inc. for up $155,000 from Saturday-June 30, 2017, for professional services in the recruitment of the next UALR chancellor. UALR Chancellor Joel Anderson is retiring effective June 30.
Lowery pointed out that the subcommittee previously reviewed a contract for a search firm to help fill the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville chancellor's job and a contract for a firm to help fill the Department of Human Services director's job, and "now we are seeing [one for] UALR.
"After a while, these $150,000 contracts start adding up to where we could fund a full division of state government to do headhunter searches for these positions," he said.
Using the Greenwood/Asher firm for the UA-Fayetteville search cost $121,101, Nate Hinkel, a spokesman for the UA System, said after the legislative panel's meeting.
At Gov. Asa Hutchinson's request, the Human Services Department has contracted with the Tupelo, Miss.-based Pace Group for up to $85,000 to help find the successor for departing Director Jon Selig.
Lowery asked UA System officials about "what these firms can uniquely do in identifying quality candidates that a nationwide search through the Chronicle of Higher Education or [website higheredjobs.com] could not do the same thing."
Melissa Rust, vice president of university relations for the UA System, replied that the most important duty for UA System President Donald Bobbitt is making sure that "we have appropriate and qualified individuals to serve as chancellors at all of their campuses."
The UA System used a search firm to hire a UAMS chancellor prior to Bobbitt starting work for the UA System, and has done so for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff's chancellor job and UA Fayetteville's chancellor job, Rust said. Using Greenwood/Asher for the UAPB search cost $88,526, Hinkel said after the legislative panel's meeting.
"We have used search firms because ... our president has done so previously and believes pretty strongly that search firms have the ability to cast a very wide net in order to hopefully attract the most qualified candidates at institutions throughout the country and, frankly, at other locations other than institutions of higher education," Rust said.
She told lawmakers that the UA System uses the newspaper Chronicle of Higher Education to advertise an opening for chancellor and the search firm also places an ad in that publication.
"Search firms have a fairly extensive database of individuals who are upwardly mobile and looking for additional positions and have the expertise of working with various types of campuses," Rust said.
Greenwood/Asher & Associates Inc. has experience in filling positions at urban campuses similar to UALR, she said.
Lowery said he "understands that sometimes a search like this can be problematic ... if you have a chancellor at another university and they are nervous about their name showing up in a search while they are still at a job."
Rust said the search firm "isn't making this decision for us.'
Bobbitt recently appointed a search committee for UALR's next chancellor and "it is a vetting process in assisting us," she added.
Lowery wondered whether the search committee members have information about which applicants "came through on their own answering the ad versus those who have been identified by the headhunter firm."
Ben Beaumont, senior director of policy and public affairs for the UA System, replied, "I think the campuses themselves and the people on the committee have an idea of what they are looking for and while they trust these firms in bringing candidates to the process, they don't let that affect their ability to choose who would be best."
Metro on 12/16/2015