I locked the door at the North Little Rock office of Arkansas’ Independent Colleges and Universities for the final time Tuesday night.
Having had the opportunity to serve as the AICU president since January 2011 was a blessing. In fact, I enjoyed working for the state’s 11 private colleges and universities so much that I thought it was the job I would still be in when I retired.
But life is full of surprises, and the good folks here at Simmons First National Corp. offered me the chance to build something from scratch. It’s the kind of challenge I like.
June was one of the busiest months of my life. I had told the folks at Simmons that I would start work on June 1. I also had promised the 11 college presidents for whom I worked that I would get AICU to the June 30 end of its fiscal year. So I worked at Simmons until about 5:30 p.m. each day and then headed across the Arkansas River to the AICU offices for another three hours or so.
It was a relief to say so long to June. Yet it also was a bit sad to say so long to the organization that represents the state’s private institutions of higher education.
Of course, AICU traded up in the “Rex trade” since the new AICU president will be Dr. Rex Horne, who is leaving Ouachita Baptist University at Arkadelphia after nine years as its president. Rex Horne is among the most talented men I know.
In addition to Ouachita, the current AICU members are Arkansas Baptist College at Little Rock, Central Baptist College at Conway, Crowley’s Ridge College at Paragould, Harding University at Searcy, Hendrix College at Conway, John Brown University at Siloam Springs, Lyon College at Batesville, Philander Smith College at Little Rock, the University of the Ozarks at Clarksville and Williams Baptist College at Walnut Ridge.
The organization has an interesting history. What’s now AICU was founded in the spring of 1954 as a sort of United Way for private colleges. Charter members of what was known at the time as the Arkansas Foundation of Associated Colleges were Arkansas College (now Lyon), College of the Ozarks (now a university), Harding College (now a university), Hendrix College, John Brown University, Ouachita Baptist College (now a university) and Southern Baptist College (now Williams Baptist).
The stated mission of the organization was to:
— Interpret the aims, functions and needs of the member colleges to the public
— Solicit funds for the benefit of the operating budgets of member colleges
In 1974, the Independent Colleges of Arkansas was organized as a related organization. It was charged with representing private colleges and universities in the area of public policy. Meanwhile, AFAC continued its fundraising role. ICA and AFAC operated out of the same offices.
In addition to the seven members of AFAC, ICA member institutions were Central Baptist, Crowley’s Ridge, Arkansas Baptist, Philander Smith and Shorter College at North Little Rock.
AFAC changed its name to the Independent College Fund of Arkansas in 1983.
In 1993, Central Baptist became the eighth ICFA member.
In 1998, ICA and ICFA merged and became AICU. By then, Shorter had lost its accreditation and thus was not eligible for AICU membership.
During the organization’s more than five decades of existence, more than $20 million has been raised and distributed to member institutions. In the early years, the funds distributed to members were unrestricted and used for a variety of purposes. Now, all money raised is for student scholarships.
Retired military officers served as the paid executives of the association during its first two decades.
Gen. Hugh Cort led the organization from 1954-58 and was succeeded by Col. Cletus Bennett from 1958-68 and Col. Maurice Radcliffe from 1968-74. They traveled the state seeking support from businesses.
Even into the late 1980s, some annual gifts were as small as $50. In its formative years, the association’s budget was augmented by large gifts from Winthrop Rockefeller, who moved to Arkansas from New York in 1953.
The organization’s executive director now carries the title of president. There were four presidents in a 14-year period:
— Max Jones from 1974-77
— William Patterson from 1977-79
— Frank Ivey from 1980-82
— Ben Elrod from 1983-88
When Elrod resigned to accept the presidency of Ouachita, central Arkansas businessman Kearney Dietz was hired as president. He served for almost 24 years before retiring in January 2011. When we renovated our office, we named it the Kearny Dietz Office Suite in honor of his many years of service.
In the early years of ICA’s policy efforts, there were repeated attempts to pass legislation to provide a college tuition equalization grant to Arkansas students who chose to enroll in the state’s private institutions. Those efforts were unsuccessful.
When the achievement-based Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship was created by the Arkansas Legislature in 1991, students were allowed to use the scholarship money at either public or private institutions in the state. This represented a major policy victory for AICU.
In November 2008, Arkansas voters passed a lottery amendment that provides additional funds for the Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship program. Those funds still may be used by students at either public or private in-state institutions.
Though raising money for scholarships is still a part of what AICU does, governmental affairs and public affairs have become increasingly important through the years. The AICU president serves as the liaison between the 11 member institutions and the governor’s office, the Legislature, the Arkansas Department of Higher Education and the state’s congressional delegation. In the area of public affairs, the AICU president is expected to give speeches statewide and write articles to educate business and civic leaders about the importance of private higher education to the state’s economy.
My replacement grew up at Camden. Rex Horne was the 15th president in the history of Ouachita, which was founded in 1886. Prior to becoming Ouachita’s president, he was the senior pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church at Little Rock for 16 years. Before he became pastor at Immanuel, Dr. Horne was a pastor in Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma. He was the president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention from 1995-97.
Dr. Horne completed his freshman year at Ouachita before finishing his bachelor’s degree at what’s now Lyon . He later earned a master of divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary at Fort Worth and a doctor of ministry degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He also was a weekly columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for 10 years while at Immanuel and is the author of three books. Under Horne’s leadership, Ouachita has significantly enhanced and expanded campus facilities.
AICU is in good hands with Rex Horne.
I could lock the door on that last night in June with a smile on my face, thankful that the time as AICU president had been a part of my life’s journey.