- Associated Press - Monday, January 12, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The chancellor at the University of Arkansas’ flagship campus said Monday that he will give up the post July 31 and return to the faculty. He said he wants to spend more time with his grandchildren.

G. David Gearhart has directed the campus in northwestern Arkansas since 2008, and it has grown from 19,000 students to 26,200 during that time. He was an adept fundraiser, directing its advancement division through a $1.046 billion campaign that included a $300 million donation from the family behind the Wal-Mart fortune.

“The most difficult part of this transition will be giving up my daily contact with our superb faculty and staff, extraordinary students, loyal and generous alumni and benefactors and campaign volunteers,” Gearhart said.

Gearhart, 62, is a faculty member within the College of Education and Health Professions.

Most recently, Gearhart had been at odds with the University of Arkansas System president over new online course offerings, and this time last year he was answering questions about a $4.2 million shortfall in the department that he used to run. Trustees gave him a vote of confidence then, even while legislators questioned him at a public hearing about whether he had the confidence to lead.

“Yes sir, I do,” Gearhart told Sen. Keith Ingram last year. The chancellor acknowledged at the hearing that financial woes in the advancement division were “an embarrassment.” He blamed his successors for the shortfall and stressed that there was no fraud or misappropriation of funds.

Still, another state senator, Terry Rice, said, “If we’re not teaching better accounting than that in higher ed, I think we’re lacking.”

The University of Arkansas System is developing “eVersity,” online course offerings intended to compete with popular programs from for-profit schools. Schools within the UA system also offer their own online courses.

Gearhart last fall objected to the system office borrowing $5 million from the state’s universities for eVersity’s start-up next fall. System President Donald Bobbitt subsequently re-emphasized support for the program.

Bobbitt said in a statement Monday that he was surprised by Gearhart’s retirement as chancellor, but that he understood and supported Gearhart’s desire to spend more time with his family.

“There never is a good time to make these decisions, but the University of Arkansas is in a very strong position with record enrollments, a strong research portfolio and nationally recognized student achievement,” Bobbitt said in a statement distributed by the university.

Gov.-elect Asa Hutchinson, who takes office Tuesday, said he appreciated Gearhart’s work, particularly his fundraising.

“His leadership of the Campaign for The Twenty-First Century set the stage for future success, and as chancellor he has led the flagship institution through a period of tremendous growth in enrollment, achievement, and influence,” the new governor said in a statement.

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Follow Kelly P. Kissel on Twitter at https://twitter.com/kisselAP

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