University of Kentucky faculty and staff members had many questions but got few specific answers at the first on-campus forums for presidential finalist Eli Capilouto, the provost of the University of Alabama-Birmingham.
Capilouto — the sole candidate to replace UK President Lee T. Todd Jr., who retires next month — met with faculty, staff, students and alumni on campus Monday.
The Board of Trustees, which voted 19-0 for Capilouto on Sunday, is expected to take a final vote on his hiring Tuesday.
Capilouto praised the trustees who are hiring him but was more cautious in answering specific questions about what he will do at UK during the next few years.
"I wasn't looking for a job at all," he said, when he was called by UK's search consultant.
And in response to repeated questions about UK's Top 20 plan, Capilouto said that, while he wanted the school to have big goals, UK's bid for that status "may not get there in our lifetimes."
Asked how he would handle the athletics department, which has ambitions for substantial facilities development, Capilouto (pronounced Kapp-uh-loot-oh') answered in a single word: "Carefully." He then added, "I haven't been briefed on that."
UK athletics is looking at at least $150 million in upgrades for Commonwealth Stadium and a possible new basketball arena.
Asked about his age — at 61, he's just three years younger than Todd — he said, "Youth is a state of mind. It's not my age that's important."
Capilouto has lived in Alabama for all but four years of his life and made a career at UAB.
At one point, asked about deferred maintenance that leaves buckets collecting rainwater in the chemistry department, Capilouto replied: "This is a matter to be addressed."
Chemistry professor Bob Grossman asked Capilouto to describe a mistake he'd made and how he recovered from it.
Capilouto said he regretted some of his hiring decisions. "Sometimes I haven't picked the right people and sometimes I haven't mentored people as well as I should," he said.
Another chemistry professor, John Anthony, asked Capilouto about the "Valley of Death" — the education and teaching component of the university situated between the powerful athletics department and health care complexes — and what could be done to quickly prevent the drain of teaching talent. Capilouto said: "This is a matter to be addressed."
He then talked about his experiences upgrading undergraduate education at UAB. Anthony said after the meeting that he did not think his question was fully answered.
Patricia Cooper, the chairwoman of the gender and women's studies department, said that while Capilouto had an impressive résumé, she had reservations.
"There are a lot of impressive things about what he's accomplished at UAB, but I'm concerned that his answers to questions were very vague," she said. "I have deep reservations about his understanding of a university where the arts and sciences play such an important role.
"I expected a more dynamic leader and speaker, which is not a personal criticism, but I think for a university of this stature, we need someone who can inspire us," she added.
In addition, Cooper said she was disappointed in his answer about athletics.
"He did not appear to have a strong understanding of the concern that so many of us have about athletics in relation to academics," she said.
At a second meeting, several staff members who are also residents of the neighborhoods that ring UK tried to press Capilouto for a commitment to upgrade town-gown relations.
"I just don't know enough to answer this question," he said.
Capilouto said that during an incognito visit to campus last week he envisioned new living spaces for students but did not elaborate on where those would be or how they would be funded.
He and his wife, Mary Lynne, will live on campus in the president's house, Maxwell Place, with their 9-month-old cocker spaniel, he said.
Capilouto showed occasional flashes of humor. When asked a question during an afternoon session by student Eli Edwards, Capilouto joked that "I was Eli before Eli was cool."
The trustees and their consultant, Greenwood/Asher & Associates, researched Capilouto's background.
However, his familiarity with issues specific to UK — among them infrastructure woes, staff wage disparities, and faculty and students who feel disenfranchised — appeared limited.
Asked how he would deal with politicians in Kentucky, he said, "For me, what's always worked is when I have a great to story to tell ... about the work we do."
Capilouto also gave a hint of his style as an administrator in some of his answers.
Asked whether faculty and staff members would be included in his decision-making, Capilouto responded with a single word: "Yes."
He then paused, and added, "I think it's vitally important to get input. At the end of the day, somebody's got to make a decision."
Asked whether he believed in freedom of speech for faculty and staff, he again replied, "Yes."
Then, after a pause during which the audience laughed, Capilouto went on to say, "I think we all have an obligation to be civil and respectful."
Reach Cheryl Truman at (859) 231-3202 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3202.