Shane Broadway is not qualified for his job. Maybe the job’s qualifications should be changed.
Broadway is the state’s interim director of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education. That’s the coordinating body that oversees (well, not really) the state’s very independent colleges and universities.
He has been an “interim” since February 2011. That’s a long time to be a temp.
At this rate, he’s going to be one a lot longer.
Broadway is a generally liked former legislator from Bryant who once served as speaker of the House and was sort of a go-to guy on public education.
He ran in 2010 for lieutenant governor but lost. Afterwards, Gov. Beebe, who won his race, appointed him deputy director of Higher Ed, and when the director, Dr. Jim Purcell, left shortly afterward for a lot more money in Louisiana, Beebe wanted Broadway to have the top spot.
This is one of many areas where the governor has much influence but little power. The Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which actually hires the director, would have appointed Broadway.
However, according to a 1997 Arkansas law – ironically co-sponsored by Broadway – the director of the Department of Higher Education “shall be an experienced educator in the field of higher education who demonstrates competence in the field of institutional management and finance.”
You can find wiggle room in a lot of things, but Broadway has never been an educator. Republican legislators last year charged that the law was being ignored and asked for a legal opinion from Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel. McDaniel eventually agreed with them. Before that happened, Broadway took himself out of contention and stayed on as the interim.
Eleven months later, he is still there. In every way, he’s acting as the director during a time of great change in higher education. There’s been an influx of students thanks to the lottery scholarship. Meanwhile, the state has been trying to ensure that more students graduate with a degree (most don’t) and that more graduate with skills in science and math (again, most don’t). He told me his efforts have not been hampered by having the word “interim” in his title.
The search for his full-time superior has not been successful. This past week, two of the latest potential directors backed out of the process after the Coordinating Board signaled they weren’t too impressed with them.
By its nature, Higher Ed director is a difficult position to fill. The job pays $192,000, which obviously is a lot of money but is considerably less than what neighboring states pay. The director answers to a lot of bosses in academia and politics. Most importantly, he or she serves at the pleasure of the governor, and Arkansas will have a new one of those after the November 2014 elections – very possibly from a different party. Most people with experience in higher education are smart enough not to leave a safe job for one that will end in two years.
The Legislature will meet again in January. I asked the governor’s office if it was planning to try to change the law so that Broadway, or someone like him, could serve in that position. The spokesman, Matt DeCample, said there was “nothing pending at present.”
Maybe something should pend. Being Higher Ed director is largely a political position, not an academic one. In other federal or state agencies, we accept that the best person for the job might come from the outside. The U.S. secretary of defense is not required to have served in the military. The U.S. secretary of state is not required to have been a diplomat. The Arkansas attorney general is not even required to be an attorney. Why should the director of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education be required to have been an educator?
Regardless, it’s looking more and more likely that the state will have an “interim” Higher Education director, or none at all, throughout almost all of Beebe’s second term and into the beginning of his successor’s first.
That’s a long-term problem. Here’s a short-term solution: Broadway should teach a class somewhere.
Steve Brawner is an independent journalist in Arkansas. His blog — Independent Arkansas — is linked at Arkansasnews.com. His e-mail address is email@example.com