UALR’s ex-chief returns to work
Anderson serves as institute’s face
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.”
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.