State administrator named interim president at Kentucky State

Aaron Thompson, executive vice president at the Council on Postsecondary Education, will serve as interim president of Kentucky State University.
Aaron Thompson, executive vice president at the Council on Postsecondary Education, will serve as interim president of Kentucky State University. Council on Postsecondary Education

A top administrator in Kentucky’s higher education oversight agency will take the helm at Kentucky State University on an interim basis, the Kentucky State Board of Regents announced Tuesday morning.

Aaron Thompson, executive vice president of the Council on Postsecondary Education, will take a leave of absence from his current job to become interim president until a permanent president is found. Thompson will begin immediately.

Last week, Kentucky State President Raymond Burse announced he was stepping down after two years of trying to help the state’s historically black university overcome financial troubles. The school has been exempted from the most recent round of state budget cuts, but still faces declining enrollment and severe deficits.

“I am honored to serve Kentucky State University as interim president and am excited for the opportunity to work with the incredibly dedicated and talented faculty, students, alumni and staff,” Thompson said in a statement. “There is still much work to be done, and I look forward to collaborating with the Kentucky State community to make sure the university continues forward until a permanent president is selected.”

Thompson is a specialist in educational attainment and academic success. He is the co-author of Black Men and Divorce, and the college textbooks, Thriving in College and Beyond: Research-Based Strategies for Academic Success and Personal Development, Thriving in the Community College and Beyond: Strategies for Academic Success and Personal Development, Focus on Success, and Diversity and the College Experience.

Thompson has worked with Kentucky State at the Council for many years, but in a phone interview Monday he said he would have to examine the current budget, enrollment management system and other infrastructure. Kentucky State’s enrollment fell 35 percent between 2005 and 2015. Its six-year graduation rate in 2015 was 22.4 percent.

But, he said, he thinks that the school’s identity as a historically black university can survive even as the school modernizes.

“There can be a primary constituent group here,” Thompson said, and given the state’s higher education achievement gap, “there is very much a need for that. I think we need to take that rich history and offer an updated vision.”

Thompson said he wasn’t sure if he would put his name in for the permanent job. “I hope I will make it an inviting situation for someone,” he said.

Also Monday, the regents appointed a 10-member search committee to find a new president. The committee will recommend up to three finalists to the KSU Board of Regents, but did not provide a firm time line for making that decision. The chairman of the search committee will be E.M. Lysonge, vice president and general counsel of online retailer CafePress.

The other members of the committee are:

▪ Regent Mindy Barfield, a partner at Dinsmore and Shohl law firm;

▪ Houston Barber, superintendent of Frankfort Independent Schools;

▪ Retired Circuit Court Judge Hubert Grimes, a KSU graduate and director of the Center for Law and Social Justice at Bethune Cookman University;

▪ Venita Hawkins, president of the KSU National Alumni Association;

▪ Faculty Regent Elgie McFayden, an associate professor in the College of Professional Studies, School of Public Administration, Social Work and Criminal Justice;

▪ Staff Regent Hettie Oldham, the archives assistant for academic affairs and the library;

▪ Frankfort Mayor William May, a graduate of KSU;

▪ Ralph Williams, the newly elected Student Government Association president;

▪ Dr. Karen Bearden, chairwoman of the board of regents (ex-officio member).

Linda Blackford: 859-231-1359, @lbblackford