Gail Hairston

Faculty Express Opinions on Presidential Search

Published: Nov 8, 2010

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Nov. 8, 2010) — A group of about 40 faculty members, including a faculty member of the Presidential Search Committee, gathered this afternoon to discuss the qualities they would like to see in the next president of the University of Kentucky.


“This is an effort to bring together a collective voice of faculty regarding the desirable characteristics of our new president,” said moderator John Thelin of the College of Education.


Today’s meeting was the second of three town hall-style meetings called by the University Senate Council to discuss the current search for UK’s next president. Lee T. Todd Jr. announced in September that he would retire June 30, 2011. The comments from the three meetings – without any attribution and in all confidence -- will be delivered to the three faculty representatives to the Presidential Search Committee.


Thelin led the discussion by pointing out that “our consultants say we must find someone who fits into the culture of UK.


“But what is UK’s culture? How would we define it?” he said.


That deceptively simple question birthed a whirlwind of divergent opinions.


Some pointed out that UK is one of only a handful of universities nationwide that embraced all our elements – a diverse curriculum that includes the humanities and the arts, mathematics and sciences, agriculture and healthcare, plus the state’s premier trauma hospital. Hence, an individual with some familiarity with similar universities would have an advantage.


“A land-grant university such as ours requires a careful distribution of resources. We have to be careful that all elements are represented equally” in the budget,” said one faculty member


Some favored an individual who is a native Kentuckian, or at least educated in the state, “because that person will understand that state politics is very tricky and can get you fired.”


Others felt just the opposite, that what UK needs is a “fresh view from outside Kentucky. Look at the modern era presidents,” said one. “Those who were the most successful were not native to Kentucky.”


A debate arose about what the consultants actually meant by the term “culture.”


“Perhaps they mean the culture of higher education,” said one, “rather than the culture of Kentucky and UK, specifically. You’re going to get different answers if we consider that possibility.


“Ultimately, do we want an administrator who was a CEO at one stage in his or her career, or do we want someone who was a professor and a college dean,” she said.


The faculty members discussed how well they thought former presidents, including Todd, have fit into the UK-Kentucky culture.


“It seems that Kentucky believes UK’s job is to provide jobs for its children. But when you do that, you diminish the impact of the arts and humanities. UK is not BCTC Part Two, but a place to get a real education, a place that teaches our students how to think, not what to think,” said one faculty from the College of Arts and Sciences.


Recognizing the dichotomy of the argument, one professor said that schools everywhere were changing to answer the question ‘When my student gets his degree, will he get a job?’


“The next president along with every faculty member on campus will have to develop a response to that question. That’s why that individual must be immersed in this national debate of the future of higher education.”


Finally, the moderator posed the question: What are UK’s priorities? There were nearly as many responses as there were individuals sitting in the William T. Young Library auditorium. A few include: seeking more of the state budget, avoiding a top-heavy administrative staff, repairing a decaying infrastructure, fixing an emotional disconnect and lack of vitality on campus, encouraging a community of learning, investing in sustainable energy, taking the town-gown council past the lip-service stage, changing our benchmarks, renovating the Student Center to engage the students more, etc.


Tough answers to tough questions, but the debate rages on. The next town hall meeting will be 4-5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 9, in the Center Theater of the UK Student Center. Written comments are accepted as well; e-mail opinions to before 5 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 10.

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