ARKADELPHIA -- Henderson State University will begin the school year under new leadership as it continues discussions on how to recoup money owed to it.
University President Glen Jones Jr. resigned Friday morning after weeks of questions concerning debt the university faces that resulted in part from students not paying their bills to the school. Jones spent seven years as president.
University general counsel Elaine Kneebone will serve as acting president for an indeterminate amount of time.
Trustees accepted Jones' resignation without opposition and selected Kneebone as his temporary replacement without opposition.
After the vote, board chairman Johnny Hudson read a statement on behalf of the trustees.
"Under Glen's leadership, Henderson has attracted more incoming freshmen and graduate students at a time when competition for a shrinking pool of students is on the rise," Hudson read. "New academic programs, increased fundraising and enhanced student life on campus that began during his tenure will benefit Reddies both now and in the future. I am grateful for his service and wish him well as he returns to the classroom."
After a yearlong sabbatical, Jones plans to return to the university as a business school faculty member.
Jones was not in the room during Friday's public session and spoke with trustees during an executive session for less than half an hour.
"Now this is a transition period we're going through. We all understand that," Hudson told about two dozen people in the boardroom and more than 100 via teleconference.
The board will meet again in August to discuss further plans. No agenda has been set.
Also, the university will work with the Arkansas State University System to improve its financial position and explore "opportunities for shared resources and services for cost avoidance and savings potential," according to a Scope of Services document attached to a memorandum of understanding between the institutions. Trustees approved that agreement Friday morning.
Just after noon Friday, Jones sent a three-paragraph email to the university community expressing his gratitude for the years he served as president.
"While serving as president of my alma mater has been one of the great blessings of my life, I believe the time has come for a new vision for our beloved institution," he wrote. "I am proud of the many things we have been able to accomplish together during my tenure at HSU and am grateful for all of your efforts in providing an outstanding educational experience for our students. When a new president is eventually named, it is my sincere hope and prayer that we will all unite behind them and give them our full support as they lead this wonderful institution."
After the meeting, faculty senate President Fred Worth, a mathematics professor, declined to say whether he thought Jones should have resigned.
"Obviously he felt like it was the right move for him ... and I'm not going to second-guess his judgment," Worth said.
Worth is serving as faculty senate president for the third time. While he said he often disagreed with Jones, he felt that Jones was more engaged with the faculty senate as president than were some past leaders.
Worth said he feels like he has a positive relationship with Kneebone, as well.
Kneebone plans to meet with the faculty and staff soon.
"They know me, but I think they need to hear from me," Kneebone said. "They need to hear from their leader."
As president, Jones earned $230,500 annually and had a $21,954 housing allowance, according state Higher Education Department documents. Kneebone said she would be given a raise for acting as president but the amount has not been determined.
Jones will continue to earn the $230,500 salary during his sabbatical but will be paid a salary commensurate with a business school faculty member upon his return.
Kneebone's first action will be meeting with senior administrators about what issues they need more information on, Kneebone said.
The university needs to hire a new vice president for finance and administration, and a search committee has been formed to do so. Brett Powell, the previous vice president of finance and administration, resigned to accept another job and left more than a month ago.
The ASU System will assist in that search, according to the Scope of Services document.
Kneebone and others also will look at how the school came to be short so much money from students not paying their bills.
The university has projected a $4 million-plus deficit for the past school year. At the same time, Jones has said students owe the university about $4.5 million.
When students don't pay, they can graduate but won't receive transcripts. Many professions or companies require transcripts as a part of their hiring process, although many don't. Many students who don't pay are dropouts.
Kneebone said HSU needs to review the policy and examine how much debt students are allowed to have to the school and at what point the university should take action against the students.
"Finding that balance is where the magic is," she said.
Trustees had complained that they approved a budget in May without being aware of the cash-flow problems. Budget documents supplied to trustees during that meeting showed that the university had spent nearly $50,000 more than it had taken in by May 2.
Trustees cut the university's budget to $65.3 million for the latest fiscal year after seeing a $3.2 million deficit and approved a $69 million budget at their meeting in May. University officials said they expected enrollment increases to bring in more than $2 million in revenue for the coming year.
Earlier this month, trustees accepted a $6 million, zero-interest state loan as the university faced two past-due accounts totaling about $1.2 million with food service provider Sodexo and for campus maintenance. While recommending the loan, Arkansas Department of Higher Education officials urged HSU to look at merging with a university system.
On Friday, trustees also approved a memorandum of understanding with the ASU System for services, including auditing, to help HSU.
Hudson stressed that the agreement was not an indication of Henderson State leaning toward a merger with the ASU System. It's a needed agreement and a normal one, he said.
"Everyone knows we need help internally," Hudson said.
The institutions have a connection already. ASU System President Chuck Welch's previous job was as Henderson State's president.
"Henderson State University is an important institution in Arkansas, and the ASU System stands ready to assist its leadership as they navigate through some challenging times," Welch said in a statement. "As a former president of Henderson, I'm very familiar with the campus, excellent faculty and staff."
The ASU System will provide services beginning Aug. 1 and lasting until Dec. 31, if services are needed until then.
Henderson State will pay the ASU System $52,083 by Dec. 15, an amount that ASU System spokesman Jeff Hankins said was based on what the system charges its member institutions for similar work.
The ASU System will audit Henderson State's finances and assist in "cash-flow management," collecting student money, budget development and evaluating areas of potential loss, according to the Scope of Services document. The system will provide legal and executive support as requested by Henderson State.
A Section on 07/20/2019
Print Headline: HSU president resigns amid school's money woes