UK hire flunks the smell test

University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto did the right thing by taking the hiring of Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart's daughter as a graduate assistant in athletics to the board of trustees.

Even with full transparency, though, the hire didn't quite pass the smell test, judging from the board's divided vote.

The episode also suggests some tightening of the regs is in order. The position of athletics director is not specifically mentioned in the nepotism ban on administrators.

Capilouto wisely decided the regulation applies to the AD. But in case a future president takes a different view, the board should amend the nepotism regulation to make it perfectly clear.

One of the things that has long distinguished UK from its Kentucky peers is a refreshing lack of nepotism and cronyism in hiring.

UK doesn't put legislators on its payroll. It prohibits the relatives of top-level administrators, like Barnhart, from being hired in departments overseen by their administrator relatives.

The governing regulations do allow for exceptions to the nepotism rule, through waivers approved by the trustees.

Contrast that with the University of Louisville where it took only a nod from the president to put AD Tom Jurich's son on the payroll in 2008. Mark Jurich earns $97,500 a year as associate athletics director for major gifts/university relations.

Barnhart's daughter, a graduate student studying exercise physiology, was chosen for one of 20 graduate assistantships in the athletics department. Graduate assistants receive tuition and books from the university and a stipend to cover their cost of living.

Because she's a student, it's not clear that UK regs even require a board waiver for her to be hired as a graduate assistant.

But Capilouto, in consultation with Barnhart, decided to take the hiring to the board. Capilouto recommended the hiring.

After a voice vote, chairman Britt Brockman ruled the recommendation had been approved. None of the trustees asked for a roll call.

Afterwards, eight trustees told reporters they had voted against hiring Barnhart's daughter, five said they had voted for it and three would not say how they had voted.

Brockman, who did not vote, said he would have voted for the hiring to break a tie.

It's hard to imagine the trustees who opposed the hiring intended to rebuke their new president at his first board meeting.

More likely they were sending a message about the value of scrupulously abiding by UK's restrictions on nepotism — and a reminder that athletics is part of the university and subject to the university's rules.

That's a good signal to send as Capilouto makes his Kentucky debut.