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Baker returns to UCA faculty position

Posted: April 7, 2014 - 4:04pm

Former senator Gilbert Baker, who resigned his administrative position with the University of Central Arkansas last week, returned to the school Monday as a faculty member in the Department of Music.

Baker said via email that recent controversy in the press prompted his decision to resign, saying it was right for him and for UCA.

“President Courtway, the Board, faculty, staff and students are doing tremendous work and I did not want to be a distraction,” Baker wrote. “I appreciate the University allowing me to return to the faculty, where I had served for over 20 years, and I look forward to working with the leadership of the Music Department and the College of Fine Arts and Communication in the days and weeks to come.”

Baker resigned just before UCA’s Board of Trustees was to meet in an executive session at an out-of-town retreat Wednesday.

UCA President Tom Courtway, after Baker’s resignation was announced through email, said Baker would still have tenure at the university.

Baker achieved tenure status in the music department before he left in 2000 for the Arkansas State Senate. When he returned as Courtway’s executive assistant in 2013, he was also granted tenure.

Baker’s faculty position, according to UCA Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Steven Runge, is as a nine-month faculty member at the rank of assistant professor.

His salary is $50,000.

Baker has appeared in recent media reports in connection to officers of Political Action Committees (PACs) that were formed with contributions from nursing homes owner Michael Morton’s corporate donations.

The contributions, through the PACs, eventually funded Circuit Court Judge Mike Maggio’s campaign for Court of Appeals, which he has since abandoned.

Two PAC officers have told the Log Cabin Democrat and the state newspaper they were unaware of their status as officer on the committees’ registration documents, signed by Little Rock attorney Chris Stewart.

Other PAC officers Sarah Drye, Stewart’s employee; Linda Leigh Flanagin, formerly an employee of Baker’s old consulting firm, LRM Consulting; and former Justice of the Peace Ancil Lea; have remained quiet since it came to light the PACs were funded with checks written the day Maggio reviewed a motion to reduce Morton’s payout by $4.2 million in a nursing home negligence case.

Officers Cheryl Loetscher and Don Thomas have said they were unaware they were part of the PACs. Thomas was Baker’s campaign manager in 2008, and Loetscher is an employee of Thomas’.

Loetscher has said the office where she works for Thomas does not have political affiliations with Baker’s office, which is located in the same suite at the corner of Hogan Lane and Tyler Street.

UCA Foundation documents provided to the Log Cabin Democrat Monday show Morton gave the foundation $100,000 on the same day his corporations made contributions to the PACs, and the same day Maggio reviewed the motion to reduce a Faulkner County jury’s award to the family of Martha Bull, who died at Greenbrier Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in what was ruled a case of negligence.

In an Aug. 1, 2013 letter to Morton thanking him for his gift to the UCA Academic Facilities Fund within the foundation, Courtway said he was impressed and encouraged after Baker’s visit with Morton.

Courtway said Morton’s $100,000 donation would help as the university moved ahead in planning for a nursing building.

The gift was refunded to Morton March 24 after UCA Foundation President Shelley Mehl wrote in a letter to the foundation’s director, Kathy Carroll, “discussing the unfolding situation” with other foundation board members.

A letter from Mehl to Morton dated the same day says while the foundation appreciates such private support, “given recent developments we feel it is everyone’s best interest to return this gift.”

When Baker was hired as executive assistant at UCA in late 2012, his duties were to include special projects; university development and communications; community outreach throughout Arkansas; government relations on the federal, state and local levels; and other matters.

He was an employee at UCA for more than 20 years as an instructor in the music department, an academic adviser, associate dean, and a member of the UCA Faculty Senate.

His salary in administration was $132,000.

(Staff writer Courtney Spradlin can be reached by email at courtney.spradlin@thecabin.net or by phone at 505-1236, or on Twitter @Courtneyism. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)

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justwantdanews 04/07/14 - 09:49 pm
Must be nice to know people . . .

I said I was not going to comment on last week’s fiasco, but this is total garbage! I'm not sure who approved this hiring decision, but this reeks of privilege. If this was anyone else except Gilbert Baker, would they be allowed to walk in and resign one week, and be hired back less than a week later? As a tax payer and UCA alumni, I am appalled. When someone leaves the university they can’t even get paid to perform services for at least six months, but he can waltz back into a new role in less than a week? Paying him $132, 000 for his previous position was ridiculous. I hope UCA faculty and staff will receive bonuses or nice raises this year. With the last 2 high dollar new hires and now this, someone really need to consider the people who are truly working hard for the university. There are a lot of UCA alumni who work for the university and if salary is any indication of the value of their education. It seems like don’t even value the degrees they are issuing.

UCA please stay away from hiring former politicians!

Zweck 04/07/14 - 11:34 pm

In New York City or Jersey we call these guys who get no show jobs mafia, in Arkansas we call them Politicians. Wonder what else this guy will get into while working for UCA. My guess he will be working deals on back end in hopes Asa gets elected

arkansan 04/08/14 - 05:47 am
I wonder.......

What made up job did they give him in the music department. I'm sure they filled his old job with someone else already. Are they going to have to fire someone so he can be rehired?

BigDaddyD 04/08/14 - 06:08 am
Something not right

Did UCA have a faculty position open?
Was this position advertised?
Who were the other candidates for the job?
Did HR follow all of the procedures?
Something is still not right about this picture. Once again UCA has to answer more questions about their employees' behavior. I guess that is why they are paying Christina Munoz the big bucks.

ARBEAR 04/08/14 - 08:45 am
Baker is Courtway's Blunder

Tom Courtway created a new position at Wingo,and without any kind of national search he hired his friend Gilbert Baker. This whole affair now seems like a flashback to the Lu Hardin era, where a crony is hired to do nothing.

Battlecat 04/08/14 - 09:17 am
The bottom line, up front is

The bottom line, up front is that if it even appears shady or could be construed as such, it should not take place. So easy, a cave man could do it.

It's like watching a disaster unfold in slow motion while everyone stands by, watching in real time, and no one acts to stop it.

BigDaddyD 04/08/14 - 02:01 pm
Arkansas State University - Conway

Seriously, a change in oversight is desperately needed.

Stella3 04/08/14 - 08:13 pm

I too thought the timing of GB's resignation from UCA was interesting because of the Music Dept Chair's resignation. Like most, I assumed GB's resignation was due solely to the Maggio PAC thing. But then I quickly thought that maybe it was because he was enabled to vacate one position then move to another, thinking the Dept Chair. But this announcement now has me thinking that it's more about a consulting role for GB.

Whether we all smell a rat or not in some bigger dark picture, I think the University sees some value in having former Music Dept staff, perhaps to help keep that ship stable, while they determine who the new Chair is.

Is it that simple, or is it much more? Hopefully, we'll learn someday soon.


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