- Associated Press - Friday, January 24, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Trustees of the University of Arkansas expressed support Friday for the chancellor of the system’s Fayetteville campus amid a fiscal crisis and allegations that he ordered employees to destroy documents subject to disclosure under the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

Board chairman Jane Rogers read an open letter to Chancellor G. David Gearhart at the trustees’ meeting Friday, and her fellow board members adopted it as a resolution supporting the campus leader despite a $4.2 million deficit in a division that handles fundraising.

“I recognize that this has been a difficult episode for the university, and I pledge that the university can and will do a better job in the future,” Rogers‘ letter read. “At the same time, I recognize the many wonderful accomplishments that have occurred across the campus.”

She credited the chancellor for making changes in how the school tracks spending and said that he had the trustees’ support.

“Our board is committed to financial accountability and freedom of information,” she said.

Trustees also voted to accept two investigative reports into the deficit, one from university system auditors and the other from legislative auditors.

A former university spokesman, John Diamond, said last year that after problems were found in the Advancement Division’s finances, the chancellor ordered employees to destroy public documents. Gearhart denies that claim.

Gearhart expressed gratitude in a statement released by the Fayetteville campus. “I appreciate the vote of confidence by the board of trustees and share the board’s desire to fully implement all of the recommendations that will strengthen the university’s fiscal processes and enhance the free flow of information that all Arkansans deserve,” he said.

Both testified under oath before a legislative committee last year that they were telling the truth.

Gearhart has blamed former administrator Brad Choate and former budget officer Joy Sharp for the deficit. The Washington County prosecutor said there was no evidence of wrongdoing.

The university on Friday announced it had raised $62.3 million halfway through the 2014 fiscal year and is ahead of pace to reach its goal of bringing in $108 million.

University officials made the announcement a day after the trustees’ audit committee accepted the audit reports about the advancement division deficit.

Gearhart said in a news release that the sum reflects the confidence that donors have in the university.

“Our benefactors are investing in the future of our great university and are clearly excited about the direction we are heading. Their confidence in us speaks volumes and reminds us why we are here: to advance higher education in the state of Arkansas and enhance the academic opportunities available for our students and faculty. I look forward to finishing out the fiscal year with additional positive results,” Gearhart said.

This is the fifth consecutive year that the campus has raised more than half of its goal by Dec. 31.

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