Todds Leave Legacy of Being the "Students' President" and "First Mom"


LEXINGTON, Ky. (June 17, 2011) -- Lee T. Todd, Jr. will admit he's not one for looking back and reflecting. He's been too busy focusing on his job as UK President and all the work and challenges to look back.

But among all the accomplishments, the dizzying array of numbers and statistics that reflect the growth of the University of Kentucky during his tenure as president, Todd always quickly comes back to one thing:


"The time I've spent with students over the past 10 years will be my brightest memory," Todd said recently when asked about his best times at UK.

Those 10 years, of course, have been filled with accomplishments, from the pursuit of Top 20 status and the Top 20 Business Plan to the announcement in June that the university had joined the elite institutions in the nation doing biomedical research with the announcement of a $20 million Center for Translational Science Award from the National Institutes of Health.

This story is the last in a five-part series highlighting some of the milestones and accomplishments of Todd's tenure as he prepares to retire as UK's 11th president. Dr. Eli Capilouto, the former provost of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, is set to take the helm at UK July 1. Other stories focused on research, athletics, the growth of health care and the push to become a Top 20 public research institution.

And yet Todd -- who is known for his passion for math and science education and the commercialization of research -- gets as much joy talking about his interactions with students, whether awarding another Truman Scholar, besting a freshman during Crunch Brunch in a game of pool, helping a new student move into a residence hall or standing outside Maxwell Place with First Lady Patsy Todd and giving out warm cookies.

 For a transcript of the video above, please click here.

Of course, the pool hall -- and Todd's ability to best most students who challenged him yearly during the Crunch Bunch before finals -- may be the part of his lengthy biography that surprises students the most.

In addition to six patents and a doctorate from MIT, Todd developed a reputation among students as a pool hustler, a skill formed as a young boy in Earlington, Ky., hanging in out the town's pool hall.

But even with pool, there was a focus on students and education.

"A father told me the other day that, 'you know, my son's a senior in high school, he's going to come to UK and he's disappointed he won't get to play pool with you next year,' and so people here about this," Todd recalled wistfully. "I saw another father some place, he and his son, and his son had beaten me in pool and told everybody about that … It's just a way to interact with the students and it's a fun night. I sometimes play for four hours."

Such interactions and attention to detail, Todd believes, are critical to developing students, who can compete for the best jobs but that also develop into well-rounded individuals.

"His interest in young people is genuine, he lights up whenever he sees a student anywhere on campus," said Kumble Subbaswamy, UK provost.

Todd, in fact, credits Subbaswamy, in particular, with the push to improve retention and graduation rates. That push -- dubbed by Subbaswamy as the "War on Attrition" -- has been responsible for adding more than an dozen academic advisors and counselors as well as programs to intervene earlier with students who may be struggling academically.

  For a transcript of the video above, please click here.

"I've made the point that if a child in Kentucky raises their hand and says I want an education, a college education, it's our goal to help them, not weed them out," Todd says. "It's been a tremendous change in the culture for that freshman year, to do everything we can do to get them to stay and come back because once their sophomores, it's easier to get them through the process."

"I think the lasting legacy that Dr. Todd leaves behind on the academic side is the high aspirations," Subbaswamy said. "I think that he got all of us to think about what he says, 'set your goal, and set it 15 degrees higher.' I think that speaks to our faculty, it speaks to our staff and it speaks to our students."

Indeed, student success at all levels -- from scholarships to graduation rates -- has been a central focus of President Todd and his administration. Some of the most significant milestones include:

  • Increasing undergraduate enrollment 11.2 percent even as the university’s retention rate has reached a record 81 percent and its graduation rate a record 61.4 percent.
  • ACT scores of this year’s freshman class have risen from 24.7 to a record-high 25.2.
  • Retention – the percentage of freshmen who move forward to their sophomore years -- has improved from 76.4 percent to nearly 82 percent – a record high as part of the War on Attrition.
  • Enrollment overall this fall is at a record-high of nearly 28,000.

 For a transcript of the video above, please click here.

Finally, Todd and others believe one of his lasting legacies with respect to students will be the reforms -- due to launch formally this fall -- of the university's general education curriculum, the general classes virtually all students take during the first two years of college.

This year along, the university is adding $1.4 million to fully implement the university’s substantial reform of its entire general education curriculum. Including this $1.4 million allocation, more than $5 million has been used to implement reform of the general education curriculum over the last two years primarily by shrinking class sizes through support for approximately 65 faculty and teaching assistant positions.

The reforms are a concerted effort by the faculty to create a curriculum that better prepares students for competition and success in a 21st century global economy. Greater attention, as a result, is being placed in introductory classes throughout the university on writing, critical thinking and analytical skills.

"The undergraduate education experience is really where I think we create the important workforce for our state," Todd said. "And they need to be able to have what I consider to be one of the best undergraduate educations in the region because we have some of the top faculty members and professors. 

And so that richness will give them a bachelor's degree that will allow them to into the workforce and be productive."