UK looking for Superman president

UK search committee hears what people want, expect in next leader

lblackford@herald-leader.comJanuary 29, 2011 

"Somebody between God and Superman," is the way Jim Stuckert, chairman of the University of Kentucky's presidential search committee, jokingly described the person wanted for UK's next president.

But he might not be too far off, based on a series of forums held Friday for faculty, students, staff and administrators to discuss the replacement for President Lee T. Todd Jr., who will step down June 30.

Based on their comments, the successful candidate should be a star academic at the top of administrative ranks, a fantastic fund-raiser who can also sweet talk the legislature for a share of dwindling state dollars, and an intellectual who brings a global perspective to learning while also governing the UK Medical Center and UK Athletics.

And then there's that whole issue of getting UK to top 20 status among the nation's public research universities. Stuckert called the search the UK Board of Trustees' most important job.

"At the end of the day, we have the legal and ethical responsibility to recruit the best candidate in the world," he said.

The committee has said it hopes to interview finalists by April so the new president could start in July.

But that best candidate requirement has also brought up a conflict in the search process itself. Several faculty members who came to Friday's forum expressed concern about the search because consultants have said repeatedly that the best candidates will require total secrecy. In a growing number of searches nationwide, only one final candidate is brought to campus.

"The market has changed dramatically since the last search" when Todd was hired in 2001, said Jan Greenwood of the Greenwood Asher and Associates search firm. Candidates "simply will not agree to be public," she said.

Overall, the range of comments at all three forums demonstrated just how diverse a set of talents a new president must have. Recent UK graduate Townsend Miller said he hoped the quest for Top 20 status won't "swallow up" undergraduate education. A group of law students pushed the need for a new law school building. One of them, Lauren Biggs, also wanted the new president to continue UK's focus on programs such as the undergraduate honors program, which allows top students to focus on the humanities.

Robynn Pease, director of the UK's work-life program, wants to see a president who supports those issues, as well as someone who is interested in good town-gown relations.

Kathy Franklin echoed these thoughts as an employee who lives in a neighborhood near UK. "We would like to see someone who is more engaged with how UK affects our neighborhoods," Franklin said.

Terry Olsom, who works for facilities management at the College of Agriculture, brought up one of the elephants in the room — the fact that faculty and staff haven't received raises in three years. "They cannot go indefinitely without salary increases," Olsom said. "We have many people who are in dire need."

The forums were sparsely attended by faculty and students, but the staff meeting gathered more than 50 people. However, officials said that they had stronger on-line audiences who watched the live-streaming on UK's Web site and responded through e-mail and Twitter.

Committee members have said they've already heard from some impressive candidates.

And they'll need to be good, especially presuming God and Superman aren't in the mix.

Or as economics professor Jim Ziliak reminded the committee: "I'd be happy with Wonder Woman as well."

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