The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff bills itself as the "Flagship of the Delta." If we follow that nautical reasoning, the university's chancellor is the ship's captain.
The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff bills itself as the “Flagship of the Delta.” If we follow that nautical reasoning, the university’s chancellor is the ship’s captain.
The individual at the helm is called upon to make difficult decisions to keep a ship on course despite the turbulence it may encounter.
Today is the last day at the helm for Chancellor Lawrence A. Davis Jr., who has carried on a leadership established by his late father, Lawrence A. “Prexy” Davis Sr., and others.
The captain of a ship is responsible for charting the course, making the decisions to alter the course when necessary and selecting the officers. A good captain must be familiar with his ship, its personnel and mission.
Lawrence A. Davis Jr. is familiar with his flagship, having lived or worked on the campus for more than 70 years, as a child, mathematics professor, as a dean and now as a chancellor since Nov. 5, 1991. His father served as president of Arkansas Agricultural Mechanical and Normal College, which later entered the University of Arkansas System and became UAPB, and as chancellor of UAPB, for 30 years.
Growing up at his father’s knee, Davis Jr. had a unique opportunity to view the reefs and uncharted shoals up close. He witnessed the decisions and compromises made by his father to keep the ship on course.
A good indication of what was to come from a Chancellor Lawrence A. Davis Jr. tenure came in his first years at the helm.
A scandal months earlier involved a $2.9 million deficit, which resulted in overspending and mismanagement that scuttled the administration of then-Chancellor Charles A. Walker. The Golden Lions football team was sidelined for an egregious set of rules violations by the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.
Davis’ early command decisions involved reorganizing the campus administration, a salary freeze, addressing allegations of impropriety in the university’s security department and in other offices, and extending the ban on football.
“You can have a college without a football team, but you can’t have a football team without a college,” is how he explained the decision on extending the football ban by another year.
No one said captains have to make just the easy decisions. Many are difficult and sometimes unpopular.
“I told him to make his own footprints,” Lawrence A. Davis Sr. was quoted as saying in a 1992 interview. “I said to him that, No. 1, he needed to care about the school, the people it serves and to be true to himself and honest in his convictions. But he has to be his own man. I did things my way because of the circumstances back then. He has to do things his way.”
The new man at the helm ordered a “revitalization program for UAPB,” including fiscal responsibility and accountability, recruitment of experienced administrators, more emphasis on school pride, recruitment of good teachers and researchers, library expansion and improvement and a much higher community profile in Pine Bluff.
He can look back with pride over years of building on the campus. It involved more than bricks and mortar. Sometimes it involved lobbying legislators for a larger appropriation to help meet UAPB’s mission to educate the poor and less privileged.
We believe the younger Davis followed his father’s advice. He chartered his own course and has earned his retirement, having marked his 75th birthday earlier this month, and the right to determine his own anchorage.
Thank you, sir, for your hard work, commitment and lifelong devotion to the university and to the city and state. Our hats are off.