Quick, what did Lexington learn from WEG?

And what should we learn in UK's search?

HERALD-LEADER COLUMNISTOctober 17, 2010 

As the dust settles from the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, we should take stock of what we learned.

For the most part, the Games went well. But, as with any big undertaking, there were hits, misses, near-misses and things we would do differently next time.

That is why, before the holidays, someone needs to get all of the principals together — as well as a diverse group of engaged bystanders — to record and analyze the experience before our collective memory fades and life goes on.

This isn't a job for elected officials, especially in an election season. A better choice to lead this effort might be a small task force from Commerce Lexington, the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau and the United Way of the Bluegrass.

Some of the knowledge we would capture could help Central Kentucky attract and host other big events in the future. But the focus should be bigger than that. Lessons learned from the Games could be applied to broader goals of economic and community development.

For example: What did the Games teach us about our region's strengths and weaknesses? How could the public-private partnership models used for WEG be applied for other endeavors? How could LexTran's success during the Games be leveraged to re-imagine the role of public transportation in Central Kentucky? How could the Games' volunteer spirit be kept alive and used in other ways?

We don't have to wait for the big shots, though. What do you think were the Games' hits and misses? What lessons did you learn? Where should we go from here? Email your thoughts to: teblen@herald-leader.com. If I get enough good responses, I will write about them.

UK after Todd

University of Kentucky President Lee T. Todd Jr. is retiring in June after a decade in the job, and the Board of Trustees' chairman last week appointed a committee with an ambitious timetable to find his successor.

What does Kentucky need in the next leader of its flagship university? Another businessman? A statesman? An experienced academic administrator? Superman?

Honestly, I'm not optimistic about what this presidential search process may yield, especially in this economic and political environment.

Education would do more than anything else to improve Kentucky's economy and quality of life over the long term. And it is not just about more math and science. Without a serious focus on creating excellence throughout the university's academic core, UK will never be a national "top 20" in anything but the salary lavished on its basketball coach.

That won't be easy. Kentucky is, after all, a poor state. And that makes me wonder why we continue to fund the costly administrative overhead of two major public research universities, UK and the University of Louisville.

If Kentuckians wanted to get the most bang for their education buck, they would merge UK and U of L under a single president, board of trustees and administrative structure and put the savings into teaching and research. Except for the rival sports tails that wag the academic dogs, it could make a lot of sense.

More focus, more cooperation, less overhead cost. There will never be a better time to consider the idea than now.

Presidential appeal

On Tuesday, I couldn't resist stopping by UK to see former President Bill Clinton speak to several thousand people in front of the Main Building at a fund-raiser for Senate candidate Jack Conway.

Covering presidents and would-be presidents has been a part of my job for more than 30 years. Still, there is always something exciting about seeing a president. My wife and I once interrupted a vacation in coastal Georgia to take our young daughters to see then-President George H.W. Bush arrive at the local airport.

I had a special reason for wanting to see Clinton this time. Fifty years ago, my mother took me to the same spot in front of UK's Main Building to see John F. Kennedy, who was then campaigning for president, speak from the back of a flat-bed truck.

I don't know if my vague memory of JFK is real, or simply the product of being told about it many times. I was a 2-year-old in a stroller that day. Still, like last Tuesday, I am glad I was there.

Reach Tom Eblen at teblen@herald-leader.com or (859) 231-1415 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 1415. Read and comment on his blog, The Bluegrass & Beyond, at Kentucky.com.

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