The chancellor of the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith said several top-level administrators recently departing the university are signs the university is hiring the right individuals and developing them professionally and intellectually.
According to Director of Public Information John Post, the following individuals have left UAFS in recent months:
• Former Provost Dr. Ray Wallace, hired as chancellor of Indiana University Southeast;
• Former STEM College Dean Dr. Mark Arant, hired as provost at Northeastern State University;
• Former Vice Chancellor for University Advancement Dr. Marta Lloyd, hired as executive director of the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute;
• Former Vice Chancellor for University Relations Mark Horn, retired; and
• Former Public Relations Director Sondra LaMar, retired.
Dr. Paul Beran, chancellor of UAFS, said he hired driven individuals for the university's various leadership positions and provided opportunities for growth, some of which lead to the individuals choosing to leave the university. But speaking from personal experience, Beran said it is part of the development of academic professionals.
"Well, you help people to self-actualize. I didn't really plan on everybody self-actualizing more or less simultaneously, but people have to take opportunity when the iron is hot," he said. "I mean, personally I've lived in five states and have been a dean, a vice president, a president and a chancellor in four different states. So, I moved in order to take advantage of the next level and the next step."
As part of the professional development offered at UAFS, Beran said his leadership team has been given training and development opportunities through the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, while faculty have been sent to professional development training and seminars.
While he does not view the departures from the staff as a negative — Beran said he actually planned on Wallace eventually taking a president or chancellor position when he hired him eight years ago — Beran said he is working to hire the right people and providing the opportunity for promotion and advancement within UAFS without having individuals necessarily needing to leave for another college or university. He pointed to several examples of individuals being able to advance in their careers as a result of some of the recent departures.
"I've reached into the 20, 30 and early 40-something pool pretty extensively over the last several years. I have brought my athletic director, Dustin Smith, who worked with me as a young man in advising and got a masters degree in sports management and he came here as a assistant AD, and now as athletic director in his mid-30s. Sitting right here with me is John Post, who came here as an assistant and we've promoted him to the public information director," he said. "Dr. Elizabeth Underwood, who he works for, is someone who I went to about two years ago who we brought here as the director of alumni and she had just finished a doctorate in public (policy) at the University of Arkansas (in Fayetteville). … I saw the potential in her to go to the next stage which is to work with me directly to manage legislative affairs and now she's moved into oversighting public information, as well as all our FOIA requests."
He also pointed to Dr. Georgia Hale, who was recently promoted to Wallace's former position, noting that she had promoted her way up through a variety of positions at the university during Beran's time as chancellor.
"I could see her expertise and when Dr. Wallace got the call to be chancellor at a different institution, he turned things over to her and had a very good leaving and I could see her leadership ability and that's when I, without search, invited her to step into the position," Beran said.
And even though the transitions taking place at UAFS are "a natural part of the collegiate experience," Beran acknowledged the interest the community could have with the news of several high profile departures from the administration and noted that with the change from a community college to a university meant more than just adding four-year degrees, but continually adding new members of the community.
"The other piece of this that people don't really take into consideration is I think when people looked at the institution as WestArk, there probably was more longevity at WestArk. And I think there is, in general, maybe more longevity at community colleges primarily because you have so many people who are engaged and invested in the community in which the college is. When you become a university, you have a much broader regional, statewide and really national vision that longevity at one particular institution becomes less significant."
While information on turnover and retention rates for administrative-level staffing at universities and UAFS in particular are not reported, Beran said the departures should not cause concern because the individuals leaving UAFS are doing so for bigger positions versus leaving for similar positions, which he said would likely be a sign of unhappiness.
"I guess what it comes down to is the real question is, 'Am I concerned?' And the answer is no," Beran said. "Because we've got the stability, we have layers of stability to continue to create opportunities."