UAB provost chosen as sole UK finalist

Eli Capilouto, right, and his wife, Mary Lynne, attended a news conference Sunday after he was introduced as the University of Kentucky Board of Trustees' sole finalist in its president search.
Eli Capilouto, right, and his wife, Mary Lynne, attended a news conference Sunday after he was introduced as the University of Kentucky Board of Trustees' sole finalist in its president search.

HEBRON — Eli Capilouto, the provost of the University of Alabama-Birmingham, has been chosen as the sole finalist for the presidency of the University of Kentucky.

The full UK Board of Trustees voted 19-0 Sunday afternoon for Capilouto after two days of interviews and deliberations in Northern Kentucky.

"Eli will have the full confidence of our faculty and our staff," said Britt Brockman, chairman of the Board of Trustees, adding that Capilouto had taken a very hospital-oriented university and expanded its focus to undergraduate education. Brockman said Capilouto stood "head and shoulders" above the other candidates.

Capilouto will visit the UK campus Monday to meet with faculty, staff and students, and the Board of Trustees will take a final vote on Tuesday after allowing comments from faculty, staff and students. If selected, Capilouto would replace Lee T. Todd Jr., who has served as president for the past 10 years.

Capilouto's credentials are "impeccable," said UK trustee Bill Farish. "He is going to do great things at UK, I think."

As provost, Capilouto is the chief academic officer of a university with 11 schools and colleges, 17,543 students and $460 million in annual research funding.

Capilouto, 61, is a Montgomery, Ala., native who graduated from the University of Alabama in 1971 and has two advanced degrees from Harvard University. He joined the faculty at UAB in 1975 and has spent his entire career there. He began as a professor in dentistry and was dean of the School of Public Health from 1994 to 2001. He has been provost since 2001.

He also has experience in overseeing K-12 education. In 2010, he stepped down after eight years on the Mountain Brook City Schools' Board of Education.

"I am excited about the possibility of helping lead an institution that clearly has an ambitious spirit among its faculty, students and staff as evidenced by its push to become a Top 20 public research institution," Capilouto said in a statement.

"UAB's first president once remarked that 'we do ... a great disservice when we dream too little dreams.' I'm thrilled at the idea of joining an institution and leading one that clearly is dreaming big dreams for the Commonwealth of Kentucky."

UK spokesman Jay Blanton said that terms of Capilouto's contract are being negotiated. A consultant told trustees the next president should receive more than $700,000 in compensation.

Capilouto, the grandson of immigrants from an island off the coast of Turkey, said he saw in Kentucky the same challenge that his grandparents and parents saw in their family — the need to attain more education.

He recalled visiting UAB as a child and how it has grown during his career: UAB stretches for 85 city blocks and ranks at the top of National Institutes of Health funding, Capilouto said.

"They deserve to have that dream answered as well, just as it was answered in our family," he said during a news conference Sunday.

Two years ago, Capilouto oversaw a sweeping reorganization of UAB, creating a College of Arts and Sciences, which combined the schools of arts and humanities, social and behavioral sciences, and natural sciences and mathematics.

In a statement, UAB President Carol Z. Garrison, the former provost at the University of Louisville, said: "Eli has a superb record at UAB as a faculty member, dean and provost. I am confident he will do an outstanding job as president of the University of Kentucky."

UAB currently is ranked 31st nationally in federal research funding and 20th in funding from the National Institutes of Health. In addition, it has the only medical center in Alabama listed in the U.S. News & World Report "Best Hospitals" issue for 21 straight years.

"I look forward to working with Dr. Capilouto and welcoming him and his family to the UK family," said Todd, who is retiring in June. "Provost Capilouto recognizes the potential of an institution like the University of Kentucky, whose academic programs and medical center are so vital to the welfare and health of the commonwealth."

Capilouto will face a series of challenges at Kentucky's flagship university. State funding cuts have hampered UK's quest to Top 20 status and all that requires, including better faculty pay, better facilities and the quest for better undergraduate education. He also will have to navigate a huge and powerful athletics program with its rabid fan base, and constantly balance the needs of undergraduate education next to a surging medical complex.

Faculty members on the search committee and the Board of Trustees appeared to think Capilouto was up to the challenges. Faculty trustee Joe Peek, an outspoken critic of UK's administration, particularly its commitment to athletics, seconded search committee Chairman Jim Stuckert's motion to select Capilouto.

Hollie Swanson, president of the faculty senate and a search committee member, said she was sold on Capilouto when she heard that he and his wife, Mary Lynne, had visited UK incognito last week, even asking medical center patients what they thought of their care.

During the news conference, Capilouto said that he had not visited Lexington before last week. When he and his wife were here, they toured UK, downtown and even had breakfast at the Keeneland track kitchen.

Swanson called UAB "a Southern success story" that blends a top-notch research organization with a successful undergraduate program. She called undergraduate education "one of our weaknesses and one of our opportunities," and said Capilouto "has fabulous listening skills. He is a very powerful thinker."

Everett McCorvey, the other faculty trustee, said Capilouto would be popular with the faculty and other campus constituencies.

But Capilouto might have more selling to do.

Phil Harling, a UK history professor who served as interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said he was relieved that the board had chosen someone with extensive university experience.

But he said Capilouto will have to make an effort to reach out to the main campus, "given his own medical background and the widespread sense that in recent years UK's medical complex has been favored enough as it is."

"I think that will be one of the challenges he faces," Harling said. "He comes into an environment where people on the main campus have been feeling relatively underprivileged. There's a sense he needs to actively address those concerns."

Other UK trustees said they thought that the entire campus community would embrace their choice.

Trustee Charles Sachatello said that UAB is one of the top medical schools in the South and that Capilouto has been instrumental in its continuing success.

Capilouto's wife was dean of the college of dentistry at UAB for six years. She said she and her husband share a passion for education, "for doing this work together."

Mary Lynne Capilouto said she did not know what she'd be doing in Lexington but that she looked forward to getting to know the university community. "We look at this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," she said.

According to his biography on the UAB Web site, Eli Capilouto has been active in local volunteer organizations, including the YMCA, the Red Cross, the Ronald McDonald House and Temple Emanu-El.

At Sunday's news conference, Capilouto said that he would stay as president "as long as I'm effective and those folks (pointing toward the trustees) have confidence in me."

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