The University of Kentucky will establish a committee to examine the oversight of the athletics department, UK president Lee T. Todd Jr. and Britt Brockman, chairman of the board of trustees, said on Tuesday.
Brockman said he hopes the committee will provide a clear idea of how UK compares in athletics oversight among benchmark schools in the Southeastern Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference.
Brockman said he and Todd, who will retire from the presidency in June, have been discussing the idea of such a committee for several months.
However, the news about an oversight committee came just two weeks after Todd announced that he had extended the contract of Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart until 2019 and given him a raise of $125,000 — to $600,000 — on his annual base salary.
Several trustees said last week that they should have been consulted before Todd's decision on Barnhart's contract. Todd's retirement means the incoming president will have an athletics director selected by Todd in place for eight years.
Todd told the trustees that he understood their concerns about the timing of his extension of the contract.
"I hope you don't hold my timing ... against Mitch," Todd said.
Few details about the composition of the committee or its objectives were available.
Brockman said he will appoint a committee of six or seven members. And Todd's office is gathering data on athletics oversight at other SEC schools.
Brockman said he does not know how the committees operate at other schools. "We're going to see if we need to change anything or not," he said.
Committee members will prepare a report on oversight at other schools. Brockman said that SEC commissioner Michael Slive may be invited to provide input on athletics oversight.
Although Barnhart has been involved in the discussions about the committee, Wendell Bell, a member of the athletics board, said Tuesday that he was not aware that the committee was being established.
"Specifically I was not aware," he said. "But in our meetings we're always given ... benchmarks to other schools in the SEC on various issues."
Other members of the athletics board did not return phone calls late Tuesday.
Although Todd described the athletics department as "one that I don't have to worry about," he said that candidates for the presidency should be questioned about their ideas for athletic governance.
While the idea for a committee to oversee UK athletics is apparently a new one for the university, other states already have athletics oversight in place.
The state university system of New York last year created an "athletic oversight officer" to serve as a watchdog over athletic programs at all of the state system's universities. His duties include making sure schools comply with NCAA rules and monitoring the admission and academic progress of student athletes.
Earlier this month, University of Iowa officials questioned the efficacy of a Presidential Committee on Athletics that has been in effect for at least a decade. The university's president downgraded the oversight group to an advisory role.
The board also passed two items regarding the search for a UK president:
■ The process will remain confidential until the search committee chooses finalists and names of final candidates will become open only if all finalists agree.
■ One preferred candidate will be brought to the campus and introduced before a final contract is executed.
James Stuckert, chairman of the search committee, said the confidentiality provision was critical to applicants. "We've got people waiting in the wings predicated on these motions," he said.
The first round of candidate interviews is to be held March 22 to 23.
Staff trustee Sheila Brothers said that she would vote for the confidentiality motion, but wondered whether she was getting reliable information about the importance of a closed search, saying she thought there is "a vested interest in keeping the process closed."
In other action, the board approved a $23 million upgrade of the UK Student Center. Work will probably begin this summer and be completed by December 2012.
"I'm really excited about this project," said student trustee Ryan Smith. "It's been a long time coming."
The board also accepted a gift of $500,000 and a pledge of $1 million from car dealer Don Jacobs of Naples, Fla., and a gift of $500,000 and a pledge of $1 million from the Don Jacobs Charitable Foundation for the new Chandler Hospital health education center and emergency department and to establish the Don Jacobs Special Projects Fund.
It also approved spending $51.8 million for a system to keep electronic health records. That will include $26 million in federal funds; $15 million from a tax-exempt lease/purchase agreement and $11 million from UK HealthCare operations.