The current dean of the University of Kentucky Gatton School of Business and Economics will become UK’s top academic officer.
On Tuesday, UK President Eli Capilouto announced that he has chosen David Blackwell as the next provost. Blackwell will replace Tim Tracy, who is leaving to head a pharmaceutical company in Cincinnati.
A committee appointed by Capilouto searched internally for Tracy’s replacements. The other finalist was Donna Arnett, dean of the College of Public Health.
“Dave brings years of experience and a record of success to the varied challenges we face, especially in our continued efforts to recruit, retain and graduate students who will: 1) strengthen the social and civic fabric of Kentucky’s communities, 2) fill and create the jobs for Kentucky’s economy, and 3) lead lives of meaning and purpose,” Capilouto said in a campus-wide email announcing the pick.
Blackwell will begin Jan. 8. He will make $525,000 a year.
He also was a finalist in 2015, when Tracy was named provost. Blackwell has been at UK since 2012, when he came to Lexington from Texas A&M, where he was a finance professor and the associate dean for graduate programs. He also worked as a director at PricewaterhouseCoopers’ financial advisory services practice after teaching finance at Emory University, the University of Georgia and the University of Houston.
Since coming to UK, Blackwell helped oversee a $65 million renovation of the business school and creation of the John Schnatter Institute for the Study of Free Enterprise with a $10 million gift from Schnatter, the CEO of Papa John’s Pizza and the Charles Koch Foundation. The gift generated controversy on campus because of the Koch Foundation’s stated aims at influencing public policy by establishing libertarian-leaning think tanks on college campuses, but Blackwell said he had made sure the group could not influence day-to-day operations.
During Blackwell’s tenure, enrollment at Gatton has grown by 36 percent to more than 4,200 students, including an increase in first-year students of nearly 70 percent. UK officials said diversity at Gatton also has improved, with more than 54 percent of the faculty members hired since 2012 contributing to the ethnic, racial and gender diversity of Gatton College, including more than 30 percent international, more than 16 percent Hispanic or black, and 30 percent women.
Although faculty and trustees have expressed concerns about the lack of diversity in Capilouto’s inner circle, Blackwell was endorsed by the UK Senate Council, the representative body for faculty.
“The council is invested in broadening the diversity of faculty, staff, students, and administration at the university,” the council said in a letter to Capilouto. “At the same time, we find that Dean Blackwell’s qualifications are compelling and here provide our endorsement of his candidacy. In summary, he has the experience, expertise, vision, and interpersonal skills necessary to successfully implement the duties of chief academic officer and to promote diversity and inclusiveness throughout the university.”
Undergraduate retention and graduation is one of the biggest issues facing the university right now. Blackwell will face other serious issues, including almost certain budget cuts in the next legislative session as lawmakers try to deal with the state’s public pension crisis.
Karen Petrone, chair of the UK history department, said that although she would like to see more women in upper administration jobs at UK, she also wrote a letter in support of Blackwell.
“Dean Blackwell comes from a college with a much larger number of undergraduates, and he has been very successful in increasing the number of undergraduates in his college,” she said. “I was impressed in his remarks on his big-picture thinking about enrollment growth, financial sustainability and student success. I was also impressed by his commitment to diversity.
“In future searches, an outside pool of candidates is the best recipe for promoting diversity at the university.”
In a statement Tuesday, Blackwell said he was “honored and incredibly gratified by the confidence President Capilouto has placed in me to take on this important task at such a critical juncture for UK in our progress as the state’s indispensable institution.
“I look forward to new innovations and collaborations that we will undertake alongside an outstanding and dedicated team, who is advocating every day on behalf of the faculty, staff and students that make this community so special.”