UK president gets contract extension, 48 percent boost in base pay

University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto.
University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto.

University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto received a 48 percent increase in his base pay and a three-year contract extension Friday.

The UK Board of Trustees unanimously voted to raise Capilouto’s base salary to $790,000. His current base salary is $535,500. The amount is a 17 percent increase over the total compensation of his initial contract, with bonus, retirement contribution and deferred compensation under the five-year contract approved in 2011.

Capilouto received a 2 percent increase in base pay and a $150,000 performance bonus in 2014. But on the same day that was announced, Capilouto announced that he and his wife were giving $250,000 to establish a multi-disciplinary health research center.

The board on Friday also extended Capilouto’s contract to June 30, 2021. His current contract expires June 30, 2018.

The new contract will include a new longevity incentive equal to Capilouto’s base salary in 2020-21. The new contract also will remove provisions related to performance bonuses and the use of a university-owned vehicle.

Capilouto was hired in 2011 as UK’s 12th president.

During Capilouto’s administration, UK Board of Trustees Chairman Britt Brockman said, there has been nearly $2 billion in campus construction; a record growth in student numbers, with enrollment now more than 30,000; and nearly $200 million in annual giving, which amounts to a doubling of financial gifts in the last four years.

The contract places Capilouto’s compensation at less than the 75th percentile of five Southeastern Conference presidents who have been hired in 2015 and 2016. Three of those institutions don’t have large academic medical centers on their campuses, Brockman said.

“We exist in a marketplace,” Brockman said. “I would submit that the president’s contract needs to reflect that fact.”

In his remarks to the board, Capilouto said “there is a lot more to do.” That was confirmed, he said, in stories he heard from students.

For example, he met with Muslim students who told him that UK is a welcoming and safe place. But in the month when they fast during Ramadan, “in the back of their minds they hear the echoes of stereotyping because of the act of one madman” in Orlando. He was referring to the shooting in a gay nightclub that left 49 people dead.

Then there were the Hispanic students “who told me they are cautious when they’re in groups about speaking Spanish to one another, because of the look. And I say, ‘What is the look?’ And they say, ‘The look is, this is America, speak English.’”

And then there were the black parents who are sending their second child to UK. But they reported a disturbing incident that one child endured in which a Confederate flag was attached to the back of a truck.

“Prejudice is not new to me,” Capilouto said. “The color lines of years ago I remember, because they demarcated the buses I rode as a kid. ...The physical lines of those bus floors have sort’ve moved to our heads. And sometimes, unconsciously, we deny equal opportunity.”

But he said UK must do more “to understand the differences that define us and build relationships to sustain a compassionate pluralism that undergirds this strong community, the commonwealth and this country.”

“We pledge to make a lot of progress on our numbers but we know we still have to work on the human side of making this a welcoming campus,” Capilouto said.

In an interview after the meeting, Capilouto was asked about the sober tone of his remarks.

“Many questions that I thought were answered when I was younger, linger today,” he said. “Especially when we consider our many differences. I think it is a responsibility, a serious responsibility, that we have today, that sometimes with anguish we have to answer these questions. I’m moved by the stories of those who are in this space, and I wanted to share them. We need to hear them. We need to listen. And we need to act. ...If we don’t illuminate a brighter path, then we will have failed.”

In other business, the board voted to approve a $3.5 billion budget for 2016-17. The lone no vote was cast by Trustee David Hawpe.

Hawpe said he would like to vote yes, “but to do so would impose a tuition increase that could have been avoided if those who wrote the state spending plan had been equally responsible in their work.”

Hawpe laid blame on the state Senate and Gov. Matt Bevin, who “insisted ... on compounding the higher education cuts that have accumulated over many years. Their goal should have been repairing the damage, not adding to it. President Capilouto and his team have done their job. The governor and the Senate majority didn’t do theirs.”

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader