UALR’s ex-chief re­turns to work

An­der­son serves as in­sti­tute’s face

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - ARKANSAS - AZIZA MUSA

The Univer­sity of Arkansas at Lit­tle Rock’s chan­cel­lor emer­i­tus has re­turned to his old stomp­ing grounds.

After just over a year in re­tire­ment, Joel An­der­son went back to work at the start of the fall se­mes­ter, this time as a scholar in res­i­dence for the In­sti­tute on Race and Eth­nic­ity. He’s not ex­actly giv­ing up on re­tire­ment — es­pe­cially his morn­ings, when he likes to leisurely read the news­pa­per, or his time with his wife, Ann, or the rest of his fam­ily.

“Part of the un­der­stand­ing with my com­ing back here was that — al­though I’m go­ing to de­vote four or five hours a day, and I’m go­ing to do that con­sis­tently — at the same time, I do want to limit the num­ber of hours be­cause I want the flex­i­bil­ity that a re­tired per­son’s sched­ule gives them,” An­der­son said.

As a scholar in res­i­dence, An­der­son will help raise funds and grants for the in­sti­tute, as well as work on com­mu­nity re­la­tions and the in­sti­tute’s pro­gram­ming. He will serve as a men­tor to a group of stu­dents, dis­cussing in weekly

meet­ings news re­lated to race and eth­nic­ity, as well as root is­sues. And he’s do­ing it all on a vol­un­teer sta­tus.

“What would mo­ti­vate me is that I’ve had an in­ter­est in, a con­cern about, the is­sues of race and eth­nic­ity in Arkansas for all my adult life,” he said. “So, if my as­so­ci­a­tion with the in­sti­tute, I could some­how make a con­tri­bu­tion, well, I would like to do that.”

An­der­son’s re­turn to the in­sti­tute comes as racial and eth­nic is­sues have flared up across the na­tion.

His in­ter­est — which he has called “a sub­tle case of dra­matic change” — stems from his sopho­more year at what was then a seg­re­gated Hard­ing Col­lege in Searcy. At the time, a few fac­ulty mem­bers said in pri­vate con­ver­sa­tion that racial seg­re­ga­tion was “morally wrong, wrong from a Chris­tian point of view,” and that opened the door to An­der­son’s re­con­sid­er­a­tion of his per­spec­tive on race, he has said.

With a Church of Christ up­bring­ing, An­der­son also called to mind nu­mer­ous Bi­b­li­cal teach­ings of equal­ity.

“Like many other col­lege stu­dents of the day, my pro­vin­cial blin­ders were re­moved, and I was forced to think dif­fer­ently and more deeply than I ever had be­fore,” An­der­son has said. “If I was go­ing to be hon­est with my­self, change was re­quired.”

The topic fol­lowed him through­out his time as chan­cel­lor when he cre­ated a com­mit­tee on race and eth­nic­ity.

Race con­tin­ues to be the big prob­lem in Arkansas, An­der­son said.

“It’s a big prob­lem just in terms of its im­pact on 400,000-plus African-Amer­i­can cit­i­zens, but be­yond that, it’s an is­sue that com­pli­cates ev­ery other ma­jor is­sue that the state wres­tles with,” he said. “So if we could make big progress on race, we would find it would be a lot eas­ier to make progress on other ma­jor is­sues as well.”

The group’s big dream is racial and eth­nic jus­tice in Arkansas, he said.

“Now, the other ob­ser­va­tion I would make is there was recog­ni­tion that this is a state prob­lem that ac­tu­ally pre­dates state­hood in 1836,” he said. “It’s a prob­lem that is in­grained in our his­tory and our present-day so­ci­ety and a prob­lem, a chal­lenge, with roots that deep is not sus­cep­ti­ble of a quick so­lu­tion. There needs to be a sus­tained ef­fort, one that’s broad-based.”

The ex-chan­cel­lor’s com­mit­tee then laid the ground­work for what in 2011 be­came the in­sti­tute, said John Kirk, its di­rec­tor.

Six years in, the in­sti­tute holds two sig­na­ture events: an an­nual sur­vey of racial at­ti­tudes in Pu­laski County, which typ­i­cally ends with a con­fer­ence, and the Arkansas Civil Rights Her­itage Trail, which in­tro­duces a new group of people who had par­tic­i­pated in the civil rights move­ment in bronze mark­ers through­out down­town. With the city of Lit­tle Rock, the in­sti­tute also cre­ated a mo­bile app, the Arkansas Civil Rights His­tory Mo­bile App, that takes people through a down­town route with key civil-rights sites, Kirk said.

Kirk has also led since 2011 Arkansas Mo­ments, a snip­pet on pub­lic ra­dio about the his­tory of the civil rights move­ment in the state. The univer­sity started a race and eth­nic­ity aca­demic mi­nor about the same time.

On top of that, the in­sti­tute brings in speak­ers to the cam­pus, screens movies and doc­u­men­taries, and af­fil­i­ates with stu­dent or­ga­ni­za­tions, he said.

The in­sti­tute — named after An­der­son — op­er­ates on a $250,000 bud­get from UALR, sup­ple­mented by do­na­tions and grants, Kirk said. With those funds, the in­sti­tute aims to raise aware­ness of racial and eth­nic is­sues, pro­vide re­search-based in­for­ma­tion and in­formed pol­icy rec­om­men­da­tions on those is­sues, build bridges and rec­on­cile through di­a­logue with dif­fer­ent racial and eth­nic groups, pro­vide for­mal study op­por­tu­ni­ties for stu­dents to learn about race and eth­nic­ity, serve as an in­for­ma­tion clear­ing­house, and make UALR a di­verse, multi-eth­nic com­mu­nity.

Like higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions that are see­ing stag­nant or re­duced state funds, the An­der­son In­sti­tute is looking for other sources of in­come — par­tic­u­larly through phi­lan­thropy and grants — to help ex­pand and grow its ca­pa­bil­i­ties, Kirk said.

In that re­gard, An­der­son will be “the per­fect am­bas­sador” for the in­sti­tute, Kirk said.

“His name is on the in­sti­tute,” he said. “To have his face along with the name now as an ever-present per­son in the in­sti­tute is fan­tas­tic for us, and it helps to con­sol­i­date that recog­ni­tion in the pub­lic mind. And also, of course, you know Dr. An­der­son’s good stand­ing in the com­mu­nity and the fact that he knows so many people is also very good for us and very help­ful for us.”

Peter Kumpe, a Lit­tle Rock at­tor­ney and mem­ber of the in­sti­tute’s ad­vi­sory coun­cil, said the cen­ter’s role and as­pi­ra­tions are as timely as ever.

“I think that the his­toric is­sues that are as­so­ci­ated with race and eth­nic­ity have been brought to the sur­face in ways that are sur­pris­ing to some people, in­evitable to oth­ers and long over­due to oth­ers,” he said. “I think the im­por­tance of the in­sti­tute is sort of ob­vi­ous th­ese days.”

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/JOHN SYKES JR.

Joel An­der­son, chan­cel­lor emer­i­tus at the Univer­sity of Arkansas at Lit­tle Rock, has re­turned to cam­pus as a scholar in res­i­dence for the UALR In­sti­tute on Race and Eth­nic­ity.

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