Baker returns to UCA faculty position

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)