Higher ed panel expected to name president

The Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education could name a permanent president Tuesday when it chooses between two candidates who have run public college systems in the northeast United States.

The council last week interviewed two finalists for the position.

Robert King spent five years as chancellor of the State University of New York system before leaving to serve as acting president of SUNY College at Potsdam in June 2005. Robert G. Clarke has been chancellor of the Vermont State College System since 1999.

Members of the council wouldn't say which candidate appears to be the favorite.

"I have nothing to say about that," said John S. Turner, chairman of the council. "I am a person that is concerned with protecting the integrity of any process."

But former Democratic Gov. Paul Patton, who is also a member of the council, said he thinks the group will name its president at Tuesday's meeting, although he declined to say which finalist he preferred.

After interviewing Clarke and King at a meeting Wednesday, the council adjourned without making a selection.

But at least one education advocate said it could be a mistake for the council to tap someone from out of state for its top full-time position, particularly when two prominent Kentuckians were in the mix.

"It's a real shame and disgrace for our state and for this system that processes overruled a wise selection," said Harry Snyder, a retired director of the Kentucky Council on Higher Education.

"We lost the opportunity to have one of two people, possibly, who have a solid background in Kentucky."

Snyder was referring to the council's interim president, Richard Crofts, a Kentucky native who headed up higher education organizations in Montana and Mississippi, and former Murray State University president Constantine W. "Deno" Curris. Curris, who took himself out of consideration for the post when the Executive Branch Ethics Commission ruled he would have a conflict of interest because his wife, Jo Hern Curris, serves on the University of Kentucky board of trustees.

"For us to hire a New Yorker instead of a Kentuckian with great experience nationally is our loss," said Snyder. He also questioned why Robert Sexton, director of the Pritchard Committee for Academic Excellence in Kentucky, wasn't considered.

But Patton said he thought both finalists could quickly overcome any unfamiliarity with Kentucky and are already aware with the challenges the state's universities face.

Jay Blanton, spokesman for Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, said the governor is pleased that the council has undertaken a national search as Beshear requested last summer and doesn't have concerns about the finalists' qualifications.

"Both have run public systems of higher education and have had a national presence," Blanton said. "That was always the concern that the candidate have the background in higher education."

Beshear balked at the council's initial recommendation this summer to hire interim president Brad Cowgill, former Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher's budget office chairman, as the permanent president. So the council, in June, tapped Crofts to serve as temporary president.