Christine Riordan is named University of Kentucky provost

Christine Riordan, dean of the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver. Photo provided by the University of Kentucky.
Christine Riordan, dean of the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver. Photo provided by the University of Kentucky.

The University of Kentucky appointed Christine Riordan, dean of the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver, as its new provost Thursday.

President Eli Capilouto sent a campus-wide email at noon announcing the appointment. Riordan will make $420,000 a year, UK spokesman Jay Blanton said.

Capilouto complimented the pool of candidates from the 10-month search but said Riordan stood out for several reasons: "Her compelling communications skills; her deep understanding of higher education's future and how she has led a college to prominence; and the sense of excitement her candidacy generated as she discussed her commitment to working collaboratively as we build upon our missions of education, research and service."

Riordan will start in the fall semester, Capilouto said. Her hiring requires approval by the UK Board of Trustees, which meets next on May 14.

The two other finalists were José Luis Bermudez, dean of liberal arts at Texas A&M University, and Nancy Brickhouse, interim provost at the University of Delaware.

Former UK Provost Kumble Subbaswamy left last year to become chancellor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Riordan will diversify UK's top ranks. Of the 12 people who report directly to Capilouto, there is only one other woman. Nine of the 12 are white men.

Riordan will be the first female provost since UK adopted that model for the chief academic officer in 2001. Elizabeth Zinser was chancellor in the administration of President Charles Wethington. She left UK to become president of Southern Oregon University in 2001.

Vincent Cassone, chair of the UK biology department, attended the public forums with all three candidates. He said he was impressed with Riordan's presentation, which started by quoting UK professor John Thelin's book on the history of higher education.

"When you're looking for a leader of an institution like this, one, you don't want to see red flags and two, you want to hear poetry," Cassone said. "She started her interview with poetry about higher education and the land grant mission, and had enthusiastic and thoughtful ideas about how she could engage the university community."

Cassone said he initially was worried about someone coming from a business school, "but her clear impassioned plea for inclusiveness gave me hope that she was going to be an active participant in changing the culture of this institution."

Riordan, 48, received a bachelor's degree in textile engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology and a doctorate in organizational behavior from Georgia State University. She started her career as a professor at the Terry College of Management at the University of Georgia, then went to the Neeley School of Business at Texas Christian University as an associate dean.

She has been praised for raising the profile and rankings of the Daniels College of Business and for increasing its endowment from $70 million to $106 million in five years.

Carol Johnson, chair of the marketing department at the University of Denver, said she was "distraught" about Riordan's departure.

"She's transparent; she's fair, she says what she thinks; if she wants something changed, she'll tell you; what she says is the truth," Johnson said. "As a woman in an almost entirely men's world, she takes people on their merit and gives them a chance."

Johnson said that when Riordan arrived at the business school in 2008, there had been a revolving door of three or four deans, and "morale was shot. We were exhausted, and there didn't seem to be a way out."

Riordan led them through a strategic-planning process, then went to the central administration to make the case for hiring 33 new faculty members, which she then did.

"She goes in armed with facts and figures," Johnson said. "She can see the big strategic picture, but she also understands the weeds that go under that ... UK will be a dramatically different and better place with Chris at the helm, and I'm not saying that because I work for her."

Riordan also has a private consulting business in executive leadership, particularly for large corporations. Blanton said that private-sector work is part of Riordan's scholarship, so it could continue if she has time while being provost.

She is married to Robert Gatewood, a retired professor from the University of Georgia, and has two children, ages 15 and 13.

The co-chairs of the provost search committee said the high quality of the three finalists was a testament to UK.

Riordan "has both the compelling vision and the track record as a scholar and academic administrator to join President Capilouto in leading UK during both a time of tremendous challenge and opportunity," Charley Carlson and Mike Reid said in a joint statement. "President Capilouto has selected someone who we believe can help us build on that history to chart a new and exciting path forward for UK and the commonwealth we serve."

Lee Blonder, chairwoman of the University Senate Council, also served on the search committee.

"In Dr. Riordan, I believe we have someone who will engage with the faculty in a spirit of partnership that honors our commitment to shared governance and our shared goal to move the university forward as an institution of choice for the best undergraduate and graduate students as well as outstanding faculty researchers and teachers," she said.