A divided University of Kentucky Board of Trustees on Tuesday narrowly approved hiring Kirby Willoughby, the daughter of UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart, as a graduate assistant in the athletics department.
The trustees voted by voice, and no individual votes were counted. When reporters polled trustees as they left the meeting, eight of the 19 who were present said they voted against the hire. Trustees James Stuckert, Pamela May and Sheila Brothers would not say how they voted.
After the meeting, chairman Britt Brockman said he did not hear enough opposition to request a roll call vote. He noted that no trustee asked for an individual count of votes.
UK has an anti-nepotism policy that says no relatives of its administrative leadership team may be employed in a position within the officer's administrative area. However, the athletics director is not among the positions specifically listed in the policy, which covers the provost, associate provosts, executive vice presidents, vice presidents and associate vice presidents.
Asked after the meeting whether the policy should be revised or clarified, Brockman said suggestions for changes could come from anywhere inside the university, including trustees, administrators, faculty or staff.
Two members — Barbara Young and Jo Hern Curris — explained their opposition to the hire during the meeting.
Curris said she voted against the appointment "with great regret."
"I do not want to cast an aspersion on this fine young lady," she said.
Willoughby, a former Eastern Kentucky University volleyball player, is a graduate student in exercise physiology at UK. She previously was a graduate assistant in the kinesiology and health promotion department in the College of Education.
Young said it was clear the nepotism policy should apply to Barnhart and his family.
The stipend that Barnhart's daughter will receive "signifies that she is an employee of the university," she said.
Trustee Charles Sachatello, who voted against the appointment, said after the meeting that trustees were not given enough time to consider the nepotism question.
Barnhart, who was present for most of the meeting, received praise from President Eli Capilouto for boosting the number of graduating athletes. When leaving the meeting, Barnhart told a reporter that "I'm an employee of the university ... whatever they determine, it's OK with me."
Capilouto had recommended approving the appointment of Willoughby. UK spokesman Jay Blanton said Monday that Capilouto thought Barnhart's job is the equivalent of the positions covered by the nepotism regulation, so he decided to seek board approval in the interest of transparency.
Capilouto's recommendation to the trustees said Willoughby "applied for the graduate assistantship in the Department of Athletics" and was tentatively selected following a formal application process open to all interested parties.
Willoughby will be overseen by an employee who reports to Marc Hill, director of strength and conditioning, who reports to Barnhart.
Willoughby will be one of 20 graduate assistants in athletics. Graduate assistants generally receive a stipend for room and board, in addition to payments made for their tuition and books.
At the University of Louisville, Mark Jurich, the son of athletics director Tom Jurich, has been employed by the university since 2008. His current title is associate athletics director for major gifts/university relations, for which he is paid $97,500 a year. Part of his salary is paid by the athletics department and part is paid by the school's Office of University Advancement.
Spokesman Mark Hebert said U of L's nepotism policy does not bar the hiring of a relative but says "no employee shall be restricted or favored" because of their family relationship with another U of L employee.
The policy also says that "when one family member might be in a position to make final decisions regarding employment, promotion, pay, assignment or working conditions of another immediate family member, the final decision is to be deferred to the next higher level of authority."
Mark Jurich is directly supervised by Keith Inman, the vice president of advancement, and Julie Hermann, the executive senior associate athletics director. U of L president James Ramsey makes final decisions about Mark Jurich, according to Hebert.