UK into the unknown

This is what happens when you conduct the search for a university president in secrecy: You introduce your fait accompli on a Sunday and confirm him two days later, without any real opportunity for faculty, staff or anyone else to do some vetting, much less compare his qualifications to those of others who made the short list.

So, when the University of Kentucky Board of Trustees votes Tuesday to hire Eli Capilouto as a successor to retiring President Lee T. Todd Jr., it will be asking the UK community — indeed, the state as a whole — to embrace something of a pig in a poke.

Sure, Capilouto has solid administrative credentials: provost (the chief academic officer) at the University of Alabama-Birmingham for the past 10 years and dean of the UAB School of Public Health from 1994 to 2001.

But credentials alone do not make a successful university president.

And Capilouto's meetings with UK faculty and staff Monday left some question about his ability to fill one of the fundamental roles of such a president: being the kind of leader who, by communicating some sense of vision for the future, inspires others to follow.

Given the opportunity Monday to convey such a vision, Capilouto chose instead to keep answers to questions brief and unrevealing.

A few other concerns come quickly to mind in regard to Capilouto.

He has spent his entire career at one university, in one system and one academic environment, with none of the broadening benefits that come with moving about a bit as you work your way up in the academic world.

And there is a question arising from his age — at 61, just three years younger than Todd. It's not a question of age itself, but rather how long he will remain in the job before following Todd into retirement. Stability in leadership is important for a university chasing Top 20 status in research.

Finally, there is the ever-present 900-pound gorilla of UK athletics. There is nothing in Capilouto's background suggesting he has any experience dealing with the pressures and problems the teams of Big Blue Nation can visit on a UK president. And his "I haven't been briefed on that" answer when asked about the subject Monday couldn't be encouraging to anyone who thinks athletics far overshadow academics at UK.

Capilouto may well prove capable of allaying all of these concerns. We hope he does, for the sake of UK and the state.

But an open search process would have allowed such concerns to be addressed in advance of his selection as president, rather than lingering on as worries as his candidacy is rushed into ratification.