(Excerpted from James F. Willis, Southern Arkansas University: The Mulerider School’s Centennial History, 1909-2009, pp. 328-329)
Almost all university presidents of the late twentieth century in the United States who remained at one institution for many years suffered an erosion of support. Dr. Brinson, who had long faced an undercurrent of criticism, lost support in the late 1980s when he essentially forced the board of trustees to choose between him and the faculty. The first time occurred during 1987’s economic difficulties when he insisted upon Rip Powell’s resuming a position as track coach. Powell, who had been a full-time teacher since 1979 and had ongoing family illness, took the matter to the Committee on Appeals, Promotion, and Tenure that ruled twice for him. Refusing the committee decision, Dr. Brinson publicly announced he would take the disagreement to the board of trustees. Finding he lacked support before the board meeting, he had to reverse himself and accept the committee’s decision. A year later in 1988, Dr. Brinson refused to accept a 67–4 vote of the entire faculty to change a political activity policy he had earlier initiated that was viewed as too restrictive of an individual’s right to run for office. Again, when forced to choose, the board did not back the president. As a result, Tom Forgey, a history professor, was able to seek and win Columbia County’s seat that year in the Arkansas legislature and was re-elected in 1990.
The hiring of Dr. James T. Lovell as the new vice president for academic affairs in fall 1988 marked a major turning point in Dr. Brinson’s loss of support. When Dr. L. A. Logan retired, Dr. Robert Pearce briefly served as his successor but left within a year to advance his career elsewhere. Pearce’s replacement, Dr. Lovell, quickly alienated much of the faculty. By March 1989 the Faculty Affairs Committee, whose chair was education professor, Dr. Marlene Reed, had established a Task Force on Faculty Morale that reflected widespread dissatisfaction. Faculty concerns were transmitted to board members in various ways. Over time, this communication had its effect.
When the board’s membership changed with an appointment in spring 1991, a new majority then voted 3–2 not to extend the president’s contract. Board chair Bob Burns cast the deciding vote to break a tie. This action meant that the Brinson era would end as of June 30, 1992. Dr. Brinson still had much community and student support and fought to reverse the decision. Over several subsequent meetings, board members heard from opponents and defenders of Dr. Brinson, but the trustees were determined to end the divisions once and for all and moved forward with setting up a search committee and process to find a new president. In the end, a compromise was worked out in which Dr. Brinson resigned as president in December 1991; the board named him distinguished professor and honored Dr. and Mrs. Brinson’s past contributions and named a new art building, then under construction, Brinson Art Building.