Long search for UK diversity chief results in one internal candidate

Sonja Feist-Price is the “preferred” candidate for UK’s vice president for institutional diversity.
Sonja Feist-Price is the “preferred” candidate for UK’s vice president for institutional diversity. University of Kentucky

Two years and two searches later, a University of Kentucky hiring committee has announced a “preferred” candidate for the position of vice president for institutional diversity.

Their pick, Sonja Feist-Price, was the co-chairwoman of the first search committee, which formed in September 2016, more than a year after the 2015 departure of former vice president, JJ Jackson.

Feist-Price, who is UK’s senior assistant provost for faculty affairs and has been an education professor in the department of early childhood since 2004, became a candidate for the open position earlier in January.

The job is one of 10 that reports directly to President Eli Capilouto. The Office of Institutional Diversity oversees the Martin Luther King Center, the Office of LGBTQ services, the Center for Graduate and Professional Diversity Initiatives and Student Support Services.

Although UK often conducts national searches to fill its top jobs, these search committees never looked beyond UK’s campus.

“The president talked to dozens of people, and he concluded that an internal search would be the best path forward, that the talent was here,” said UK spokesman Jay Blanton. “Many people approached Feist-Price, and asked her to apply for the position. She reconsidered, withdrew from the committee and applied for the position.”

Donna Arnett, dean of the College of Public Health, became the sole committee chairwoman last fall after Feist-Price applied for the position. She said Feist-Price is by far the best person for the job.

“She’s clearly outstanding in aspects of inclusive excellence,” Arnett said. “She has a strong working knowledge of UK … she’s been one of the faces of diversity on campus in terms of being present and at the table. She has great academic credentials as well.”

Terry Allen, who has led the UK Office of Institutional Equity and Equal Opportunity since 2003, has been the interim vice president of institutional diversity since July 2015.

Feist-Price will appear in two public forums on Thursday. The faculty/staff forum is at 2 p.m. in room 321 of the Jacobs Science Building and the student forum is at 5 p.m. in room 121 of the Jacobs Science Building.

If Feist-Price is hired, she will add diversity to Capilouto’s direct reports. Only one woman reports to him, Lisa Cassis, the vice president for research. The remaining eight people who report to Capilouto, including the chiefs of administration and UK HealthCare, are white men.

Not everyone is pleased with the search process for a vice president of institutional diversity. A group called “Concerned UK Students” issued a statement questioning the transparency of the process, despite what they called Feist-Price’s effective track record.

“The lack of transparency on the search committee proceedings does not foster a sense of trust among students and UK senior administrators,” said the group’s representatives, UK students Eseosa Ighodaro and Della V. Mosley. “It is our hope that UK senior administrators can provide specific detailed answers to our questions so that we can move forward in improving the racial campus climate at UK.”

The UK Black Graduate and Professional Student Association had asked Capilouto to conduct a national search for the position after numerous forums last year at which black students expressed alienation and harassment on campus.

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Linda Blackford: 859-231-1359, @lbblackford