Wikimedia - Creative Commons

Jonesboro and NE Arkansas deserve better from the Jonesboro Sun

Time for a fair shake from the Sun

The media in the US is supposed to play the role watchdog not the role of henchmen or attack dog.

The Jonesboro Sun has stepped far afield from the role of watchdog.

The Sun acted on tips regarding the behavior of Dr. Hudson but Arkansas State University was apparently ahead of the Sun investigating the same allegations. The System Office was doing the job entrusted and expected of it.

To grasp the difference in the Sun’s contributions vs AState’s own investigation consider the headlines and stories before and after the audit appeared.

The Sun focused on Spain and the Convention Center.

What was atop the web sites of the Sun, KAIT, Arkansas Business, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and Talk Business after the second audit? What was the quote pulled out by each?

It was all about the attempt to obtain tuition benefit for a family member.

How was this discovered? By the Sun. Nope. By anonymous report to the school? Nope. By allegation on social media? Nope.

The Internal Audit performed by Arkansas State uncovered the most appalling thing to come out of the entire mess. It wasn’t trying to get free lodging for a trip, failing to document agreements, or even failing to disclose a financial relationship. It was the offer to trade a tuition discount at NYIT for most likely one person, in exchange for a tuition discount to likely several people at AState.

For all the sound, fury and for lack of a better word, bluster, by the Sun, it was Arkansas State University that did the hard work that disproved some of the claims. Remember Dr. Hudson at one point was claimed to own a stake in a hotel used by study abroad. AState substantiated other claims but most importantly nailed his hide to the wall over something no one at all knew anything about.

The problem is the Sun has made it clear to all that they have abdicated the role of watch dog. The Sun has become a venomous attack dog lashing wildly and blindly against Arkansas State University.

Let’s review.

In an opinion piece railing against a Federal food program being operated by Jonesboro Public Schools, the teeth were bared and lashed out over the compensation of Dr. Hudson. The Sun opinion piece said that Dr. Hudson’s children could participate in the program.

Seriously? His children are not public figures, they are not government employees and the Sun made the decision hold them up to public ridicule and scorn. If you think they weren't you don't know school age children. That is not the act of watchdog but an uncontrolled hate filled beast.

The Sun in opinion piece indicated the paper is appalled that the university wanted to pay $50,000 a year for a study abroad director. I realize media jobs tend to pay poorly but look at this objectively. The director has to secure facilities for instruction and housing in other countries, employ qualified instructors in other countries, manage the logistics of getting the students there.

A personal story. My daughter was on a study abroad program and during a weekend break had traveled to The Netherlands. I turn on the TV and see the news of the terrorist attack at the Brussels airport. I knew she was safe but I texted her to see if any other AState students may have gone to Brussels. She replied they had not because it was “black listed”. Puzzled I asked what that meant and I was told that any place the director did not believe was safe to travel was put on the black list, any student traveling to a black listed place was subject to being removed from the program and sent home immediately.

Shortly after I learned about “black list” the announcer on television reported that students from the University of Missouri who traveling to Belgium on a university program had safely left the airport before the attack. For all the problems that happened within the AState study abroad program, AState out-performed the University of Missouri by respecting the travel warnings available.

The Sun thinks paying $4000 more to the study abroad director than the average teacher makes in Arkansas is unreasonable. Imagine the horror if those Missouri students had arrived in Brussels a bit later. Consider explaining to parents that they had entrusted the safety of their children to someone who did not exercise the level of care, that had been exercised by AState.

The Sun railed again and again about not getting via FOI request documents in use for the audits even though state law looks to be on the side of Arkansas State. The Sun repeatedly declared AState’s actions illegal but never plunked down the hundred or so bucks to get a judge involved. Why ask a judge to rule when you might lose and quite likely Paxton Media lawyers looked at it and felt it a waste of time and money. No much more fun to just say it is illegal than risk being exposed as wrong.

Now the Sun is wheeling around to attack Dr. Welch.

Today’s editorial blames the mess not on the avariace of Dr. Hudson but the inattention of Dr. Welch. That of course requires you the reader to forget that the investigation ordered by Dr. Welch uncovered more than any tipster knew was taking place.

I don’t recall the Sun asking how the CEO of a bank in Northeast Arkansas was ignorant of the fact that four employees had walked out of the door with $4 million dollars and that crime spree took ten years from the start to be discovered. Did the depositors and investors in the bank along with the taxpayers who fund deposit insurance not deserve the Sun to be on their side asking how this could happen over the course of a decade?

Where have been the hard hitting looks at how the NEA District Fair goes from selling the most valuable block of property to come on the market in Jonesboro to bankrupt in such a short time? Do the people of NE Arkansas not deserve to have the Sun care about that?

Do we know whether everything is above board with how the deal was done between the city and the other convention center? Has there been a close look at whether the people who duly pay their electricity bill and water bill each month are adequately protected? After all the loan CWL money is essential to the project. Has there been any question of whether it is prudent to risk that money with a developer with a less than outstanding track record of success when an alternative existed across town that would not have required as much taxpayer money on the line? Will the Sun even care if anyone points out shortcomings with the A&P project?

Today the Sun in an editorial states that the people deserve university leadership that can be trusted.

Guess what Mr. Harris, AState has that in a system president who was ahead of your paper in uncovering the problems and found problems you had no idea existed.

I know it is more fun to pick on the children of a chancellor you don’t like, or run letters to the editor and fail to point out that the writer has a widely known resentment and ax to grind as well as a connection to an AState Convention Center opponent. We also know that no one ever had their readers get mad for yelling “Little Rock!” as the cause of anything going wrong in Jonesboro. Despite that, man up, be decent and admit ASU System is doing amazing things. The partnerships in Mexico, bringing actual real medical students to Jonesboro, attracting more students over all who are academically better qualified as a group than any group that has walked into the institution all while keeping the cost to students from rising as fast as other state schools.

Is it too hard to be decent and honest and remind readers that there are great and very positive things happening at Arkansas State University and those things did not just happen without the work of the leadership? Wait the Sun cannot do that because an intelligent reader will spot the logical inconsistency. The inattentive leadership cannot be doing great things because that would mean the leadership is engaged and responsible. Thus the Sun chooses to bury news.

Let’s take an example. Hilton signed off on the AState Convention Center project. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette put it in on the front page of the business section above the fold. The Sun placed it on page A7 and devoted fewer words to the story than that “Little Rock paper”. Apparently the FFA lemonade stand and Pokemon being used to attract voters were more important news items for NE Arkansas that day. Oh and the shocking news that it was hot in the summer in Arkansas was also front page news, literally the heat was a front page article that day.

And you readers, you bear responsibility as well for the snarling hate spewed by the Sun. Why do you buy the paper? Why do you subscribe? Why do you not tell the businesses you spend your money with that you dislike seeing them spend money with an anti-Arkansas State newspaper? You are just as responsible for the Sun’s vendetta against Arkansas State as the corporate drones at Paxton Media. While the Sun rails about the leadership of the ASU System being in Little Rock, remember Paxton media fired people in Jonesboro and gave their jobs to people in Paducah, Kentucky. Doesn’t NEA deserve better?