Fast Times at UTA

Ryan Amacher says he's leading the University of Texas at Arlington into a glorious future. But his critics fear his passion for pomp and party will run it into the ground.

But Sophocleus blames Amacher for the turmoil. "Amacher set up a solution to not deal with the problem," says Sophocleus.

But Amacher says the split had nothing to do with conflict within the department, but says it was a long needed move to separate professors with legal backgrounds from those with pure economic backgrounds.

During that time, a married graduate student who was involved with an economics professor who was also married became pregnant. Amacher says the professor, who had been supervising the pregnant woman's doctoral thesis, voluntarily stepped down. And, according to press reports, another student told police she was raped in the office of an economics instructor who was later convicted of aggravated assault.

"It was the straw that broke the camel's back for me," says Sophocleus, who left in early 1992 for Auburn. "All these things that happened in the department were just symptoms. Ryan Amacher was the problem."

A few weeks later, the UTA regents announced their new choice for president--Ryan Amacher.

"When I heard he had been named president at UTA," Sophocleus says, "the first thing I said was, 'My God, who let the barbarian in the gate?'"

It's unclear how much the UTA's search committee knew about Amacher's problems at Clemson. "I had heard about (the allegations while Amacher was at Clemson), but I'm not prepared to get into it," says Eirik Furuboten, a member of the search committee.

Amacher passed a rigorous background check by a private consulting company, says Vice Chancellor Duncan. John McElroy, dean of engineering and member of the committee, says Amacher was top on the list of candidates--almost everyone was smitten by Amacher's amiable personality and his stellar record for fundraising.

Amacher negotiated a sweet deal with UTA. According to his contract, in addition to a $140,000 a year--Wendell Nedderman's salary after almost 20 years had topped out at $129,000--Amacher will also receive a $250,000 life insurance policy paid in increments of $20,000 a year and to be paid in full to him at the end of five years; an additional $5,000 in 1992 as "partial reimbursement for expenses related to job transfer;" $66,000 a year in housing allowance; unspecified amount for retaining a full-time housekeeper; a $700-a-month car allowance; and various club memberships, including one to Shady Valley Golf Club. He also received a $10,000 bonus to cover business ventures that were interrupted.

In addition, UTA reimbursed Amacher for $17,335 in relocation expenses, plus another $885 for a friend to assist in the drive from Clemson to Arlington.

This year, Amacher's salary was raised to $155,000 and his housing and car allowance was raised to $92,400 a year. University of Houston President James Pickering, whose university is similar in size and scope, earns $156,045 a year and $25,000 a year in housing allowance. He also has use of a university car. According to a study done by the Texas Faculty Association in October 1994, the average salary for public university presidents was $128,730.

Amacher's first decision as president didn't make him popular with faculty. He vetoed the faculty's long-standing plan to raise admission requirements at UTA. Amacher insisted that raising admissions would only make things worse and might even make enrollment drop more. In response, many of the deans got together, led by the Dean of Business, Walter Mullendore, and voted on a mission statement for UTA that stressed the university's role as a research institute.

Amacher fired Mullendore while the dean was out of town.
But it's been the dozens of parties that began shortly after he arrived that have set the tone for fast times in UTA's administration. Last year, Amacher dished out $110,000 for entertainment. Between May 1993 and October 1994, Amacher charged more than $10,600 in alcohol for entertainment, all tax free from the same Big Daddy's liquor store in Fort Worth. According to State Law, state universities can legally buy alcohol as long as no state money (tuition and fees) is used. Almost all of the charges are paid out of local funds from the president's discretionary fund, a fund which the president can use as he wishes, including award scholarships. Entertainment expenses have helped deplete the fund--as of November 1994, Amacher's discretionary fund has been operating at a deficit.

Critics wonder where all the liquor goes. For one September 1, 1994 event, listed as an "administrator's party," $934 in alcohol was purchased from Big Daddy's for, at most, 35 people. Amacher gave three more parties at his home that month for faculty and assorted administrators, and charged UTA another $1,146 at Big Daddy's for alcohol. Not included in that $10,000 entertainment bill are hundreds of dollars more in bar tabs, written off, legitimately, as UTA business. "I doubt this office spends any more money than any other university," says Provost Dalmas Taylor.

But a sampling of comparable Texas universities showed UTA may indeed spend more in entertainment. UT El Paso President Diana Natalicio spent $32,991 on entertainment last year, a total which according to university Business Affairs Administrator Wynne Anderson, includes a broad range of university functions, including development. Liquor could not be broken down, according to Anderson.

University of Houston President James Pickering spent a tidy $716.88 in entertainment from his discretionary fund last year, mostly for business meals, according to university spokeswoman Geri Konigsberg. Konigsberg says Pickering has not asked to be reimbursed for liquor during the last two years.

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