Search for new University of Kentucky president will draw plenty of input

Following footsteps, or taking new path?

amead@herald-leader.comSeptember 9, 2010 

Lee T. Todd Jr. announced his retirement as president of the University of Kentucky on Wednesday. Todd, who pinned his presidency on the drive to make UK a Top 20 research university, said at a news conference he would step down on June 30, 2011.

DAVID PERRY | STAFF

The job qualifications: Make diverse groups happy, move the state toward a brighter future, cheer loudly each time the Wildcats win another Final Four.

The University of Kentucky Board of Trustees made an unconventional choice a decade ago when it chose Lee T. Todd Jr. as the school's 11th president.

What kind of person will it choose for No. 12?

Todd, who announced Wednesday that he will leave at the end of the academic year, was unusual because he was a former professor and businessman, but was not an academic who had moved up through the ranks of department chair, dean and provost.

The board will, like the last time, get advice from a search committee made up of some of its members, along with input from faculty, staff and students. And others.

Bill Lear, an attorney, developer and former state legislature, said the university president can be a key in commercializing ideas hatched at the school.

"From the standpoint of the community, the best thing about Lee Todd is he has reached out and ... he's tried to promote businesses that are spawned by the university's brain power," Lear said.

The next president "doesn't have to be another Lee Todd, but they don't need an ivory tower."

Alan Hawse, a UK engineering graduate and vice president of information technology at California-based Cypress Semiconductor who lives in Central Kentucky, beat the same drum. "I would like to see another executive come in," he said.

Hawse suggested that the search committee look for Kentuckians who have succeeded elsewhere and might be convinced to come home to finish their career in service to the state.

Another option would be to hire a young up-and-comer with those qualities, even if he or she eventually moves on to another university.

Either way, he said, "I think having a shining star is important."

Arne Bathke, a statistics professor who is involved in environmental issues, said Todd didn't push to make the school more sustainable.

A new president must, he said, because "that is something that will make the university very attractive in the future."

Judy "J.J." Jackson, UK's first vice president for institutional diversity, said she wants someone to continue "the vision (Todd) laid out and that I wrapped my heart and mind around."

Former Gov. Paul Patton, now president of Pikeville College and head of the Council on Postsecondary Education, said he doesn't think there will be a shortage of highly qualified candidates for the president's job, and that the transition to a new president should be smooth.

"President of the University of Kentucky is going to be a prime spot in higher education, so I think it will be a very actively sought-after position," he said. "I doubt that there will be much reason to skip a beat."

But Ernest J. Yanarella, a political scientist and former faculty trustee, said a new president will need time to figure out the university.

"It will mean that for the next two years the university will be in a kind of state of suspended animation awaiting the new plan, the new initiative."

Joe Peek, who replaced Yanarella on the board, said finding a successful president is going to require a major change in the way Kentucky views and funds its flagship university.

"If I'm going to take on a job, I'd like to think that I have at least a chance of being successful. ... The people of this state have to understand that at least they care about education and that the future is education," he said.

Billy Joe Miles, the interim board chairman, said the state's obsession with UK sports "will have to be put on the back burner" for a new president to succeed.

He also said finding the best person to replace Todd will be difficult because UK can't offer nearly as much money as the top schools.

"To be honest it's really going to be tough to recruit a president with the money we have," Miles said. "Everyone else in the top 20 is making multiples of what Lee Todd is making."

Herald-Leader reporter Jim Warren and columnist Tom Eblen contributed to this article. Reach Andy Mead at (859) 231-3319 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3319.

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