Capilouto and UK trustees focus on research during board retreat

University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto spoke as The K-Lair reopened Aug. 27, 2014, in a its new larger location. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff
University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto spoke as The K-Lair reopened Aug. 27, 2014, in a its new larger location. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff

President Eli Capilouto spent his first three years at the University of Kentucky focused on undergraduates, increasing both the number of students and the number of new residential halls across campus. Now he's ready to look at graduate education and research, particularly as it pertains to helping Kentucky's health and economic woes.

At a retreat Friday for the university's board of trustees, some of UK's top researchers explained how their research works and how much more funding and infrastructure is needed to improve their work.

Research projects that get the most funding and the best results are multidisciplinary, which UK is already doing at the Center for Applied Energy Research, the Sanders Brown Center on Aging and other places. But those researchers need more funding and a lot more space, trustees were told Friday.

"I would like to see much more people," said Mark Williams, director of UK's Center for Health Services Research.

He recently secured a $15 million grant to study how to improve transitions between hospitals and homes.

"I see this as the start of some amazing work ... but we have the potential to be the leader in health outcomes, particularly for disadvantaged people," Williams said.

UK's ability to improve the state's dismal health statistics should be an important driver of research, Capilouto said. In addition, research is good for the state, helping to create more than 8,000 jobs and $581 million in economic impact in 2013, according to a recent study.

Trustees spent the afternoon trying to hone their priorities about how to improve research, possibly starting with one important and large multidisciplinary research building. Last month, Capilouto pledged to donate $250,000 to such a center that would be dedicated to closing Kentucky's health gaps.

But unlike the university's partnership with a private developer to build thousands of new dorm rooms on campus, a research building will require millions of dollars in funding from the state, which faces increased demand for money from K-12 schools, Medicaid and a host of other programs.

Trustees should work on finding more state dollars to be handed out, trustee David Hawpe said.

"Something we can do as educational leaders across Kentucky is openly and persuasively support a modernized tax system which will not depress our economy but grow with our economy," Hawpe said. "That's something we can do as educational leaders. We need a system which will adequately fund state government, particularly as it is related to education."

Trustees did not comment generally on Hawpe's suggestion but did seem enthusiastic about a bricks-and-mortar project to show their support of research.

"We must become focused," just as the board did three years ago when it committed to new housing infrastructure three years ago, board chairman Keith Gannon said. "It's exactly the same kind of commitment."

The retreat continues Saturday morning.