Eric D. Fingerhut, former chancellor of the University System of Ohio and a well-known Ohio politician, is a candidate and possibly one of the finalists for the presidency of the University of Kentucky.
Fingerhut's presence in the highly secretive search was confirmed by his former boss, former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, who earned a doctorate in counseling psychology in 1980 from UK.
"I have friends who live in Lexington, so I was very pleased when I heard that Eric had applied, but I'm not sure where they are in that process," Strickland said Tuesday in confirming Fingerhut's candidacy.
He said that he had spoken with Fingerhut, 51, about UK.
"It's just a wonderful institution, and I'm very personally indebted to the university," Strickland said. "It's been a wonderful part of my life."
Strickland said that Fingerhut, who he called "a wonderfully gifted person," was particularly successful in building a broad-based coalition of business and education, Democrats and Republicans during Fingerhut's four-year tenure as Chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents.
The Board of Regents oversees Ohio's 14 universities, 23 community colleges and 140 adult education programs.
Fingerhut did not return numerous phone calls to his home and office.
Fingerhut was the first Ohio higher education chancellor to be raised to cabinet status in Strickland's administration. He was also the first to be appointed by the governor rather than by the Ohio Board of Regents. When he resigned in February, he told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that he would like to stay in higher education.
Fingerhut's background and experience match many of the criteria that are on the wish list of the search committee members for the next UK president. According to various editorials and testimonials, he is politically savvy, able to unite disparate constituencies, and an economic development visionary who pushed to link higher education with business.
Strickland and Fingerhut both ran for governor in 2006, before Fingerhut dropped out. In 2004, Fingerhut ran unsuccessfully as the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate.
"He had the deepest and the broadest respect in Ohio," Strickland said.
Fingerhut, a former United States congressman and Ohio state senator, now works for Boston-based Jobs for the Future as a senior fellow. According to his biography on the Ohio Board of Regents Web site, he and his wife, Amy, have two young sons and live in Columbus.
Jobs for the Future is a nonprofit organization that, according to its Web site, works to "expand opportunity for youth and adults who are struggling to advance."
Fingerhut is a graduate of Northwestern University and received a law degree from Stanford University. From 2005-07, he was on the business administration faculty at Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio, as the director of Economic Development Education and Entrepreneurship. He also was a senior lecturer in the Case Western Reserve University Department of Political Science, School of Law, and Weatherhead School of Management.
A Cleveland Plain Dealer editorial praised Fingerhut after he resigned to allow Strickland's successor, Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, to appoint his own higher education chancellor. The editorial said that after being hired by Strickland in 2007 to create a set of goals for Ohio's 14 universities, 23 community colleges and 140 adult education programs, Fingerhut proved himself "thoughtful and committed ... to making Ohio higher education a source of talent, research and entrepreneurial energy for the future."
The Columbus Dispatch was similarly glowing in its praise for the former chancellor of the University System of Ohio, saying that Fingerhut's leadership "has allowed each school to keep its unique identity while decreasing duplication and sharing resources."
UK officials declined to confirm whether Fingerhut was a candidate.
"As has been the case throughout this process, we will not comment on the candidate pool," said Britt Brockman, chairman of the UK Board of Trustees. "The confidentiality of this process is critically important in ensuring that we get the best possible candidate to lead the University of Kentucky as our 12th president."
The UK presidential search, to replace retiring president Lee T. Todd Jr., has been conducted largely in secret. Initial interviews were conducted at a Northern Kentucky hotel in a black-draped room in an area patrolled by security.
The presidential search committee had opted to conduct the search without identifying candidates after being told by their search consultant, Greenwood/Asher & Associates, that open searches tend to drive away highly qualified candidates who fear losing their jobs and political clout.
Under the ground rules used by the committee and trustees, candidates would only be identified if all finalists agreed to making their names public. UK spokesman Jay Blanton said last week that at least one candidate had objected, meaning that no names would be revealed.
The trustees are to make their selection and name a preferred candidate this weekend in Northern Kentucky. On Monday, the candidate will speak with students, faculty and staff members in Lexington. On Tuesday, the trustees will vote on making a formal job offer.