Guess who's coming to dinner

An audit and an auction bring UTA president and critics to the table

University of Texas System Chancellor Bill Cunningham announced last week that system officials will audit University of Texas at Arlington's finances and management policies.

The audit began this week, after publication of an Observer cover story (see "Fast Times at UTA," January 12) containing allegations against UTA President Ryan Amacher that include extravagant spending and cronyism.

UTSystem Audits Director Charles Chaffin told the Observer several factors prompted Cunningham to order the investigation, but added, "It's clear your article was out there. That is the type of article no one can ignore."

System officials expect the audit to take three months and to include interviews with students, faculty, and administrators, as well as reviews of internal and external documents. Amacher has told reporters he welcomes the audit and hopes the scrutiny will put the allegations against him to rest.

Amacher, who was unavailable for comment, has been under fire for months by students and faculty for his spending habits, including hundreds of thousands of dollars to redecorate and renovate his office and $2.5 million to renovate a historical building that will house administrative offices.

"Nobody has accused Amacher of spending money illegally--that's not the point," says Dr. Ulrich Herrmann, professor of physics at UTA since 1961. "[The audit} may show he has been careless in spending or not overseeing spending the way he should have. But the audit will never be able to answer the question of whether his spending priorities are the correct ones. Should [Amacher] have spent the money on what he has spent it on? An audit can't answer that."

Meanwhile, the faculty senate will vote on Wednesday to take a "vote of confidence" on Amacher. If 10 percent of the faculty senate agree, then the vote of confidence will take place during a special meeting next week. A vote of no confidence will be conveyed to the regents, says Herrmann.

The audit caps more than two years of student and faculty bickering and protests against Amacher's changes. In October, pranksters padlocked Amacher inside the gate to his horse farm for the second time. Faculty members have written critical letters about him to the student newspaper, The Shorthorn, which has editorialized against him.

Meanwhile, Amacher will have a rare opportunity to butter up some of his harshest critics. The embattled president is tentatively scheduled late this week to don an apron and serve up a home-cooked dinner to several students at his Arlington home.

Political science major William Neal purchased the $300 dinner opportunity at a political science auction fundraiser, says T.J. Barber, president of the Progressive Students' Union, and invited along six of his friends, including several of the school's most outspoken students--including student congress representative Scott Elrod, who has called for Amacher's resignation and criminal indictment, and Max Raines, a Shorthorn reporter.

Neal, who says some of Amacher's actions have been misconstrued by some students and the media, sees the dinner as a bridge builder. "I'm not sure Scott Elrod has ever had a personal conversation with Dr. Amacher," Neal says. "When you break bread with someone, you see them on a personal level."

Barber promises the students won't harangue Amacher further. "We aren't going to be disrespectful--if he wants to talk about [issues], we will. It's his house." Neal suspects it will be hard to avoid school matters, but says Amacher agreed to the guest list as long as the conversation remains civil.

Barber isn't worried about getting his point across at the dinner. After all, he says, if Amacher wasn't listening before, he's listening now. "Between the Observer article and the audit, I would pretty much say we have his attention.

 
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