Former Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson was among four finalists named Thursday for the presidency of Transylvania University.
The other three finalists to lead the small liberal arts school in Lexington are Seamus Carey, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn.; Michelle Johnston, senior vice president for administrative affairs at the University of Montevallo in Montevallo, Ala.; and Thomas Minar, vice president of development and alumni relations at American University in Washington, D.C.
Grayson, who attended Harvard and received his law degree at the University of Kentucky, served two terms as secretary of state, from 2004 through 2011. Once a rising star in Kentucky's Republican Party, he lost the 2011 GOP primary for U.S. Senate to Rand Paul, an ophthalmologist from Bowling Green.
Grayson has led Harvard's Institute of Politics since 2011.
In a phone interview Thursday, Grayson said he was contacted by Transylvania alumni last year, after Owen Williams announced that he would leave at the end of the 2014 school year. The university's faculty overwhelmingly approved a vote of no confidence in Williams' leadership last summer.
"Transylvania is a great school, has a great history and I think it has a very bright future," Grayson said. "Having been at Harvard the last three years, I've come to discover that higher education is a real passion of mine. I was always interested in it as a policy area, but I'm really enjoying working with students and getting involved in campus issues."
The four finalists will attend campus forums from Jan. 26 through Feb. 4 to meet with faculty, staff and students. Grayson will be on campus Jan. 28 and 29.
Transylvania, a liberal arts college of 1,100 students in downtown Lexington, was founded in 1780. In 2010, Williams was chosen to replace Charles Shearer, who had led the school for 27 years.
Williams, a former Wall Street banker who returned to school for a doctorate in history, brought an ambitious agenda to Transy, including a larger, more diverse student body and property acquisition, including new playing fields that recently opened on Fourth Street.
However, Williams' interpersonal skills became problematic for faculty, staff and students, some of whom accused him of being dismissive and sexist and creating a "community of fear," with a chilly climate toward women in particular.
On May 28, the faculty voted 68-7 to express no confidence in Williams' leadership. The Board of Trustees, many of whom appeared to be taken aback by the controversy, took a unanimous vote of confidence for the president.
In June, however, Williams announced that he would leave at the end of this academic year, and the board convened a search committee.
Minar will be on campus Jan. 26 and 27. He received an undergraduate degree from Pomona College and a doctorate in political science from Northwestern University. He has taught religion and political science, and has worked in alumni relations, fundraising and external affairs for the past 20 years. Minar was not available for comment Thursday.
Johnston will be on campus Jan. 30 and 31. She received her undergraduate degree in music from the University of Alabama and a doctorate in educational leadership from Mississippi State University. She was not available for comment Thursday.
Carey will be on campus Feb. 3 and 4. He attended Vassar College and received a doctorate in philosophy from Fordham University. He is the author of four books on philosophy and parenting.
Reached by phone Thursday, Carey said he was impressed with the school and unconcerned by the campus' recent travails.
"Those things happen, and I think they're unfortunate, but at a school with such a tradition and history, those things can be overcome with the right kind of leadership," he said. "I look forward to seeing the campus in person."
Linda Blackford: (859) 231-1359. Twitter: @lbblackford