UK denies Lexington councilman's request that MLK center director be reinstated

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comJune 15, 2012 

A Lexington Urban County Council member on Friday asked the University of Kentucky's president to reinstate the director of UK's Martin Luther King Cultural Center.

But UK spokesman Jay Blanton said Friday night that Chester Grundy, who founded and directed the center for more than 30 years, would not be reinstated.

Grundy is one of 140 employees at UK being laid off as part of budget cuts. An additional 164 positions are not being filled.

The layoff of one of UK's longest-serving and best-known black employees has fueled concern among supporters.

"Like many fellow African-American alumni of the university, I believe the abrupt circumstances surrounding Mr. Grundy's layoff exposes the MLK Cultural Center program to unnecessary instability, diminished support and a fractured community profile," Councilman Chris Ford wrote in a letter to UK President Eli Capilouto.

"... The cost savings of this personnel action will prove inefficient, when balanced by the burdens placed on the UK African-American student population in the event of the MLK Center's falter and demise," Ford wrote.

J.J. Jackson, vice president of institutional diversity, Grundy's supervisor, made the decision about the layoff. Jackson issued a statement Friday that said UK was in the process of reorganizing the Office of Institutional Diversity, which oversees the King cultural center, to focus more on student success.

Jackson said she could not discuss specific personnel issues.

"The question now is how is the university moving forward to enhance and grow our diversity efforts — which have been marked in recent years by significant growth in the diversity of student population and faculty ranks — in a way that will be more focused on student success," Jackson said.

The university will focus on improving retention rates of blacks and other "underrepresented students," increasing diversity in academic programs, and having more diverse students "join the ranks of our campus leadership," Jackson said.

UK will "focus increasingly finite resources on the academic enterprise," said Jackson.

"Cultural programming, which has largely been the focus of the Martin Luther King Jr. Cultural Center in recent years, is important," Jackson said. "We know, however, that academic success is a decisive determinant of what further opportunities students might receive."

Jackson said she, Interim Provost Timothy Tracy, and Capilouto are having meetings on campus and in the community about the direction of the center.

Ford said in an interview Friday that in asking that Grundy be reinstated, "it was just my intent to reach out ... to the new president and give a perspective from that of a former student, a former athlete and the constituency that I serve in the African-American community."

Ford is a UK graduate and a former UK football player.

Grundy said he appreciated Ford's concern and support.

Grundy also helped start the Spotlight Jazz series, the community's MLK Celebration and the annual Roots and Heritage Festival.

"I regret the lack of personal regard for Mr. Grundy's long tenure of service to the University of Kentucky (as exemplified by an unexpected layoff notice) does not reflect the level of compassion and professional courtesy expected of the commonwealth's flagship public institution," Ford wrote in the letter.

"Mr. Grundy's legacy of contributions throughout the Lexington community and to UK alumni near and far, prove him deserving of the respect and dignity earned by ... decades of service and university association. In consideration of economic and intangible value, Chester's role of an ambassador for UK and Lexington goes without measure."

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409. Twitter: @vhspears.

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