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Arkansans react after state senator criticizes UALR billboard ad

A state lawmaker tweeted against increasing funding for the Arkansas Department of Higher Education because of a university billboard.

It's a controversial remark that's causing a buzz among Arkansans -- a state lawmaker tweeted against increasing funding for the Arkansas Department of Higher Education because of a university billboard.

Senator Bart Hester, (R-1), tweeted this on Monday:

“Why higher ed does NOT need increase funding. They lease a sign to encourage computer science degree or math teachers? No they push for dance majors. Lots of hardworking Arkansans subsidizing this! Not ok @UALR”

Hester on Twitter criticizing the University of Arkansas at Little Rock's billboard advertisement after they chose to promote their dance major instead of computer sciences or math.

In an interview, Hester said he was on his way to the Arkansas State Capitol when he saw the billboard on I-30.

"There's priorities. That our state needs a dance degree is less of a priority than a math teacher," he said. "Go talk to your local principal or superintendent. They need math teachers. We have different priorities. I would like to see our higher education push the priorities and needs of our state."

UALR’S Associate Vice Chancellor of Communications and Marketing Judy Williams released the following to KATV:

"Our Unlimited Pathways marketing campaign is designed to introduce prospective students and the community to the variety of majors and programs that are available at UA Little Rock. The billboard on I-30 features a BFA dance performance major in an astounding photo on our theater stage. Our university offers the only dance performance program in Arkansas. This is only one ad in the campaign. Other ads in the campaign (billboards, digital, print, and radio) have featured our students in these programs:

• Architectural and construction engineering

• Biology

• Chemistry

• Computer science

• Economics

• Mathematics

• Nursing

• American Sign Language

"Students truly do have unlimited opportunities by obtaining a college degree at UA Little Rock," the statement continues, "whether it's in the liberal arts or in STEM disciplines. Our recruitment campaigns tie back to the university's mission statement: The mission of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock is to develop the intellect of students; to discover and disseminate knowledge; to serve and strengthen society by enhancing awareness in scientific, technical, and cultural arenas; and to promote humane sensitivities and understanding of interdependence.”

Many on social media have been reacting, including former Miss America and Miss Arkansas Savvy Shields, who tweeted she disagreed with Hester.

KATV reached out to former state legislator Julie Mayberry, who runs a dance studio for disabled children. She said dancing has always been a part of her life and that billboard was a wonderful way to promote the state and its university.

"Everybody has a different God-given ability and we want them to use that ability here in the state of Arkansas," she said. "And so bring them here, keep there here, [keep] recruiting them to stay here in the State of Arkansas."

During the interview, Hester clarified that he was not attacking or criticizing dancing or the arts. He said he was criticizing the choice of billboard ad, given the nature of the fiscal session that's right around the corner. Hester added that this is all about politics.

The Thea Foundation’s Executive Director, Paul Leopoulos, released this statement to Channel 7:

For 17 years, Thea Foundation has advocated for and funded the arts in Arkansas schools. We know from so much research that the arts are critical for students who pursue math, science and other subjects, but teaching the arts for arts’ sake is equally as important. Art forms like dance, music, painting, photography, creative writing, and so many others are what motivate students young and old to learn, to explore their world, to think creatively and critically, to express themselves and communicate to others, to practice and have discipline, to be confident and push themselves to achieve more in life. We have watched so many young Arkansans find their confidence and succeed because of the arts. Many of these students wake up motivated to go to school each day because they’ll get to go to art class, or dance studio or band. Many of these students wouldn’t have pursued college if it weren’t for the arts, and we are proud to have awarded them with scholarships to push them further in the direction of higher education, whether or not they wanted to become computer programmers, math teachers or dancers. Many of these students currently go to or went to UA Little Rock, which partners with us to match the scholarship money Thea Foundation awards to students should they choose to attend UALR. Our mission is to advocate the importance of the arts in the development of our youth, and we will always work to make the arts accessible to students across our state.

Follow Marine Glisovic on Twitter at @KATVMarine.

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