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OPINION | MIKE MASTERSON: All in the name

by Mike Masterson | July 13, 2021 at 4:21 a.m.

The controversy over quietly renaming an endowed professorship to honor Bill Clinton at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock's Bowen Law School has provided fodder for legal blogs and now prompted a state hearing.

At issue is how in an unannounced change after 20 years, the "Distinguished Professor of Law and Public Policy" at Bowen inexplicably became the "William J. Clinton Professor of Constitutional Law and Public Service."

Valued readers know the resulting conflict among some on the Bowen faculty has been the subject of two previous columns.

The matter has now led to a joint hearing by the Senate and House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committees, set for 10 a.m. Aug. 10.

The committees requested that Professor Robert Steinbuch and Dean Theresa Beiner of the law school provide testimony and answer questions over circumstances involved in renaming the professorship.

Best known for his staunch and uncompromising defense of transparency in government, Steinbuch told me he believed that the questions raised by his colleague Tom Sullivan in an email Sullivan sent to the Bowen faculty are in need of complete and honest answers.

They include: "Why didn't Bowen's administration announce at a faculty meeting, by email (or in any other fashion) the re-designation of this long-standing professorship in the name of William J. Clinton? Why was this done in secret?

"Were the actions taken by Bowen's administration in re-designating a professorship in the name of Clinton discussed with--and approved by--the UALR chancellor, Christy Drale, and the UA Board of Trustees prior to their implementation? Or was this re-designation withheld from the chancellor and the board, in addition to the law school faculty and general public?

"Does the law school's administration believe it appropriate to re-designate a professorship in the name of Clinton given that: President Clinton was disbarred from practice before the United States Supreme Court and suspended from Arkansas courts for five years by plea agreement; he was involved in the mass incarceration of Americans, particularly poor and African American communities; he has a troubling history of allegations over abusing women physically, as well as threatening them to remain silent during his run for the presidency?

"Why didn't the Bowen administration believe it was the legitimate authority of the faculty to, even at minimum, offer advice and consent on re-designating an established professorship in Clinton's name, particularly given such a decision might have significant consequences in terms of Bowen's mission and reputation?

"Was the recent re-designation in Clinton's name done solely to satisfy the political interests of the dean, or a group of advisers or supporters who answer only to the dean?"

Finally, Steinbuch seeks to understand what changed in the last year that warranted adding Clinton's name to an endowed professorship without his name attached for 20 years.

Based on what I've learned of the matter, these questions are legitimate and indeed require answers for the administration of the law school to get past this serious controversy and move forward smoothly.

Meeting Libby

What if I told you it's possible (depending on your community library) to now borrow everything from fishing poles to cooking utensils, books, books-on-tape, videos and much more by simply downloading an Internet app called Libby.

I learned about the possibilities of Libby from a friend only last week and plan on using it often in the coming year. I'll not be surprised if you do the same.

Like most everything in today's society, the library has continued to evolve. Ginger Schoenenberger, the head librarian in Harrison, helped me connect to Libby as she explained that her library is continuing to build the collection of various goods available other than books to check out by using a card number.

"Right now, we have fishing poles and a few other items available for those with library cards, but we are working toward building on the number of items we can offer," she said.

Libby allows cardholders to save hundreds of dollars a year by freely downloading books and magazines, including new releases from favorite authors they otherwise might purchase.

I suspect most valued readers weren't aware of Libby and how she can enhance their lives.

Golden egg river

Anyone else catch the recent news story about the rise in visitors during 2020 to the Buffalo National River? I like to call it our state's golden-egg-laying stream.

The story confirmed what most of us learned about the value of this natural gem to the Ozarks and our state.

In 2020, 1.5 million visited America's first national river, leaving behind some $66.3 million in area communities, and supported 960 jobs. The cumulative benefit of these visitors to our state was $76.1 million, according to the National Park Service and U.S. Geological Survey.


Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

Print Headline: All in the name

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