Editorial On Target

Sometimes I forget that the 130 miles between Little Rock and Jonesboro aren't always crossed with a quick drive of two hours. There are still differences that persist.

Reading Roy Ockert's very supportive editorial Dr. Welch's leadership and being based in Little Rock at times gave me pause and I had to re-read it again because it was written from such a different perspective than I have. That's not a criticism just a reminder that the 130 mile difference is real.

Ockert considers Welch low-profile and Hudson the face of the campus but 130 miles away, Chancellor Hudson is more of an unknown. Most alums I've spoken to in Central Arkansas perceive he is doing a good job and things are going well but might not be able to pick him out of line-up. President Welch on the other hand is seen as the face of the university (as much as any president can be for a school that has recorded 20 victories in its last 26 outings).

The difference is which media has the easiest access to each and who alums have the easiest access to.

Ockert's argument that Arkansas State has benefited by having most of the System office located in Little Rock is quickly proven by that simple difference in perception.

Long-time Central Arkansas supporters frustrated by sleights in Little Rock now have a natural ally who is reading the same newspapers, watching the same television stations, and hearing the same radio stations. In the past leadership was in a bubble of ASU friendly media in Jonesboro and mostly unaware of the wilderness stAte fans lived in two hours away.

Central Arkansas events and appearances have a higher priority and are less likely to be abandoned because they are simply too much trouble.

More importantly for the long-term health of Arkansas State is a new approach to the business of the university. As I said in an online post, the leadership seems to not be thinking "out of the box" but rather denying the box exists.

The Doctor of Osteopathy program is an example of the creative thinking, partnering with a private provider to offer a degree program that Arkansas State on its own would almost certainly not receive approval to offer. Without question there will be efforts to derail the program without regard to the needs of the region, state or nation. There will be an estimated 130,000 fewer physicians in 2025 than the nation needs and Arkansas is at the bottom of the list in doctors per capita.

The process won't be simple because opponents will note that a shortage of residency slots for new medical school graduates is starting to emerge thanks to a Federal budget deal made a decade and a half ago that capped Federal Medicare funded residency slots rather than permitting the slots to grow as need increased.

The history Arkansas State has been periods of leaps forward by big thinkers at the helm with successors who solidified ASU's position at that new level moving incrementally forward until the time becomes ripe to surprise the state with a new round of big thinking.

With the ASU System now more than just Jonesboro and Beebe and lacking the constraint of an entrenched hierarchy of how the Arkansas State SYSTEM is to be run the time is ripe for the biggest leaps forward in the history of the institution. Arkansas State is no longer grounded in responding to the needs of a slice of Northeast Arkansas, the needs of the communities of hosting the various campuses, institutes, instructional sites, and heritage sites are now being funneled into the Little Rock based System office creating a big picture view of how Arkansas State can serve the advancement of the state.

Arkansas State has moved beyond being "just" an agriculture college and into an important resource that has helped preserve the Rohwer Internment Camp site, has saved true cultural treasures like the Hemingway-Pfeiffer home, the Lakeport Plantation, the Johnny Cash home, offers programs to provide skilled workers in programs that do not lead to bachelor's or associate degrees in response to the needs of business, while still turning out agriculture and teaching graduates that for so long were the core of the university.

Roy Ockert is right. The Board of Trustees vision is working out well whether you view it from Northeast Arkansas or Central Arkansas.