President's Blog: Adapting and growing to respond to the evolving needs of Kentucky

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Oct. 24, 2023) — The following is University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto's remarks to the UK Board of Trustees during the annual retreat held Oct. 19-20.


Over the last few weeks, you have read and heard directly about Kentucky’s significant opportunities and still considerable challenges.

Of course, as a large, public university, we do not operate in isolation from a national context and climate — institutions of learning and the states and communities they serve … places where potential exists alongside peril … a growing need for the education and the credentials only institutions like ours provide co-existent with serious financial barriers and demographic realities, among others.

The Commonwealth and her University face all these dynamics — of change and challenge, promise and potential pitfalls.

However, because of your commitment and leadership — as well as thousands of faculty, staff and students — we are making progress in meeting our mission to advance this state in manifold ways.

We are the inheritors of a lengthy legacy — one more link in a strong and unbroken chain of UK people steadfastly focused on creating and sustaining a state that tomorrow is healthier, wealthier and wiser than it is today.

But I also take from our time preparing for this retreat, and in what we have discovered together, that now is not the time to rest.

We cannot afford to sit still in the calm waters of satisfaction.

We must make disruption our ally. 

We must accelerate our progress.

We must be willing to adapt and grow to be responsive to the quickly evolving needs of the state we were created to serve.

As much as we have done, there is still much more to do.

You have heard and read about many of those issues. And you know we are focused — across our campus and in every community of the Commonwealth — on meeting and addressing them.

If Kentucky is to grow, we must grow also — thoughtfully, smartly, but growth, nonetheless.

It is a matter of simple math.

Most of the good-paying jobs in Kentucky and our country that are available now and will be in the future require a degree or training beyond high school.

But too few Kentuckians have those credentials.

We are treating and healing more patients and expanding our capacity to provide the most sophisticated advanced care in the nation.

But too many Kentuckians, still, lack access to this care or are too sick to maximize their potentials.

Our state is ready to grow economically — billions of dollars in development and factories, jobs and opportunities, coming to our state as we speak.

But we must increase the participation levels of our workforce, in part by training more Kentuckians and by encouraging more graduates and skilled workers to come here and stay.

Employers are hiring our graduates. Indeed, as you know, they are begging for more of them.

But they also are asking us to ensure they have the requisite and evolving toolkit of hard and soft skills to compete and succeed, to lead and to thrive.

They must have the competency to handle tough and technical tasks. Yet, they also must have the intellectual wherewithal and deep reservoirs of compassion to create meaning, conducting themselves — and leading others — with a sense of purpose and integrity.

We can prepare students for their first job but what about their fifth or their tenth one — each more complex and amid polarization and pandemics as well as questions we cannot possibly foresee?

And how are we preparing them for jobs yet imagined or to be creators of their own ideas, entrepreneurs who explore and expand upon their own dreams and discoveries rather than serve as the assemblers of someone else’s?

We must be poised and positioned to do all these things — but do them now, with a sense of urgency … with open hearts and minds … with a sense of dedication to discussion and debate in an environment of civility and with a sense of comity.

We must accelerate our efforts to grow a community of scholars and students, staff and partners, where everyone can find their place, while being their true and authentic selves.

That is the direction you have charged us to take.

That is the path you have asked us to forge.

These are the plans we are committed to creating and implementing.

This is the state we were called to serve.

On behalf of a campus and community dedicated to advancing our state, we are ready to meet this moment.

Thank you.