AState President Hosts Town Hall on Jonesboro Campus

AState President Chuck Welch
AState President Chuck Welch

AState President Chuck Welch listens to concerns at a Town Hall meeting on the Jonesboro campus. He said he expects to have an interim chancellor in place within a few weeks. (Photo by Tucker Crain)

by Tucker Crain
Delta Digital News Service

JONESBORO, Ark. — Arkansas State University System President Chuck Welch addressed the Jonesboro campus in an open town hall following the resignation of chancellor, Tim Hudson.

“There is not going to be any formal presentation taking place, instead, I want us to have a conversation. This is going to be very laid back,” Welch said.

Over 50 people attended the Aug. 24 meeting, and questions ranged from the minutia of running the campus to transparency.

“ASU-Jonesboro lacks transparency. From the top to the bottom; this is nothing new. The recent audits have just exacerbated that. How do we let our shared governance come in and keep this from being the case?” asked Michael McDaniel, professor of communication disorders. “We, the faculty and staff – and even the students – have achieved a seat at the table. But having that seat does not seem to be the same as having a voice. We want to be heard. These shared governance committees do not work like this.”

Welch insisted things will improve.

“I have sat in on many of the shared governance meetings, and there are certainly very vocal people on every single one. If we need to go through extra steps to make sure everyone feels like their voice is being heard, then we will,” Welch said.

Welch then explained how such a shared governance committees could actually work out.

“We have an issue with clearly defining shared governance, its committees and how they are executed. When it seems like something is being done that not everyone at ASU-Jonesboro likes, you must remember that we make decisions that affect more than just the ASU-Jonesboro campus and its community,” Welch said.

While the crowd seemed satisfied by the answers on transparency, students in attendance brought concerns of their own.
Brett Dush, a junior at ASU-Jonesboro, went on a recent study-abroad trip to Spain.

“We were all given documents specifying the exact cost of everything and where all our money was going. But we looked into it. A lot of our money went to a travel agency and we had to pay for some of our meals out of pocket, which was not the original plan. I will email them to you,” Dush said.

“Please do,” Welch replied, “because I will provide transparency. I’ll show everyone the receipts I have that are under question. We are hiring a full-time study-abroad director. We will not carry out any trip that will not let students get the most possible from it. That is why we had to recently cancel the upcoming trip to France. And for that, I am truly sorry. But if we do these, we are going to do them right.”

History professor John Beineke, a distinguished professor of educational leadership and curriculum, questioned if Welch knew of the improprieties of the Hudson administration. Welch denied prior knowledge.

“I hear a lot of things. I hear a lot of things that just are not true. Was I aware the Dr. Hudson’s leadership style was different than mine? Yes. However, the word ‘bully’ never came up until after everything else came to light,” Welch said.

Paul Mixon, the interim dean of the College of Engineering, questioned when the Jonesboro campus would have new leadership. Welch suggested an interim chancellor would be selected in weeks rather than months.

“What we really need right now is a chancellor who can act as a healer,” Welch said. He continued by addressing concerns brought by audience members who thought the search committee might not have done the best job picking the last chancellor.

“I cannot predict the future, and hindsight is always 20/20. But the search committee will come up with numerous capable candidates,” Welch said.

Mary Jackson-Pitts, professor of communications, questioned if the search committees actually had input.

“On the last search committee I was on, we were not allowed to vote for who we really liked,” she said.

Welch noted that would not have been his instructions.

“I have never been on a committee where I said we could not vote. Instead, I say this: I want to protect both members of the committee and the candidates. But we do a heavy background check on all the candidates. I call people on and off the reference sheet. I talk to former students and coworkers. I bring all this information to the committee and we discuss,” he said.

Welch assured everyone the flagship campus still has the most consideration of any in the system.

“People question a lot of things we do by saying, ‘But won’t that hurt ASU-Jonesboro?’ The decisions we make at the central office always help the flagship campus the most. You can look and see that at the University of Arkansas, the University of North Texas, and other schools we compare our systems to,” he said.

Welch emphasized the openness he demonstrated in the town hall was something he was looking for in the next interim chancellor and, eventually, the long-term chancellor.

“I underestimated how little this sort of thing was taking place – this openness. I want the next chancellor to be a listener, have a calming influence, an external perspective and to help me stay honest with you all. Last time, I wanted someone who was aggressive, progressive and inventive. Well, we sure got that,” he said.

During the conversations, Welch did not forget to mention how much he loves his job and Jonesboro.

“This is my hometown. I was a first generation college student, and my dad did not even graduate from high school. This job is not just a paycheck for me – it is a chance for me to give opportunities to others that my parents did not have. It is my passion. We cannot undo some things that happened but we can heal. I may not be the brightest, but I can learn a few things,” he said.

Welch will also meet with the following campus governance committees next month:

  • Student Government Association—Sept. 13
  • Faculty Senate—Sept. 16
  • Staff Senate—Sept. 21