Capilouto pledges new dorms and classrooms during investiture speech

Capilouto sworn in as president, promises new dorms, classrooms

lblackford@herald-leader.comOctober 19, 2011 

Eli Capilouto was formally installed as the University of Kentucky's 12th president Tuesday, and he marked the occasion with a bold promise to build new dormitories and classroom buildings.

"There is no easy time," Capilouto said to an audience full of robed academics, along with many students, at the Singletary Center for the Arts. "There is only our time. And this is the University of Kentucky's time because we must honor our promise."

That promise goes back 150 years, a covenant to improve the commonwealth by educating its citizens.

Improved facilities are at the center of the promise, Capilouto concluded, partly because the average age of UK's buildings is more than 50 years old, partly because the university has less access for people with disabilities than any school in the state and partly because only 10 percent of students on campus live in modern housing.

UK has estimated that it has $1 billion in facility needs. Capilouto said UK will ask the state for financial support, "but we must also find new approaches to earn our way through greater and more intentional philanthropy, through innovative partnerships that leverage our resources, through smart growth of our student body and through globalization of our campus and different modes of learning."

Capilouto, who came to UK from the provost position at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, is expected to discuss a facilities plan in more detail at the Oct. 25 Board of Trustees meeting. His speech clearly reflected priorities made at a recent trustees retreat, his first since he arrived on campus in July.

Those priorities include high-tech residence halls, along with better technology in classrooms and research space.

In addition to improving facilities, Capilouto said he wants to increase funding for Singletary Scholarships — four years of tuition, room, board and $1,500 stipends — so that more talented freshmen can go to UK instead of leaving the state. And he pledged to make the campus more diverse and inclusive to "reflect the interconnected world in which our students are expected to compete and succeed."

He also talked about finding ways to finance revitalized facilities for the arts and "self-financed" athletics facilities, "which together both draw in new students and cement ties to our alumni and supporters across the commonwealth."

"We cannot wait, or be held back because we were afraid to take these first steps," he said. "We must and we will act. We will honor Kentucky's promise, to each other, to our students and to our children. And I as the university's president promise to accept this challenge."

Capilouto received a prolonged standing ovation after the UK medallion was placed around his neck. On stage with him were the two most recent UK presidents, Lee T. Todd and Charles Wethington, along with the presidents of most of the state's regional universities.

"I thought he did a good job, he laid out his vision," said Jason Swanson, an assistant professor in hospitality management. "I'm excited he's talking about buildings."

The speech also earned praise from Ross Bratcher, a sophomore from Louisville.

"It was outstanding," he said. "We like that he wants to rebuild the infrastructure, most notably dorms."

Board of Trustees Chairman Britt Brockman said Capilouto's speech laid out the board's strategic vision.

"We can't just rely on the state," Brockman said. "We have to be innovative and creative about other ways of financing. It's a time of great challenge and great opportunity."

Not everyone was applauding. A group of about six students from the Beyond Coal coalition stood in the back of the auditorium with signs protesting the coal industry's influence at UK, including one that said "Eli — Get Big Coal Off Campus."

The group's spokeswoman, Elaine Alvey, said they were later asked to leave the Singletary Center, so they stood outside with their signs pressed against the building's windows.

"We're worried about environmental injustice and the problems of two coal-fired power plants on campus," Alvey said. The group also is upset about the close relationship between UK Athletics and the coal industry.

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