Nine-year UK president Eli Capilouto up for contract extension

President Eli Capilouto and his wife walk onto the field for the crowning of the UK 2018 Homecoming King and Queen at halftime during the game against Vanderbilt on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018, at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Arden Barnes | Staff

Lauren Campbell

After nine years at the University of Kentucky, Eli Capilouto is seeking an extension of his tenure as UK’s 12th president. He chose to extend his contract earlier this year, a decision that was announced by UK Board of Trustees Chair Robert Vance in a university-wide email on May 21. The upcoming 2020-2021 school year is the last year of Capilouto’s current contract.

Vance’s email includes Capilouto’s intent-to-renew letter, where he lists achievements made by the university under his administration. This is the second time Capilouto has chosen to renew his presidency; his first contract ended in 2016, at which time Capilouto sought and was approved to remain president through 2021.

Capilouto became president of UK on July 1, 2011, succeeding Lee T. Todd Jr. who retired after a decade as UK’s president. According to his contract, Capilouto’s initial annual salary was $500,000, with benefits of at least $100,000, including a university-provided car and residency at Maxwell House.

Before his presidency at UK, Capilouto served as provost of the University of Alabama-Birmingham and dean of the UAB School of Public Health.

He holds several undergraduate and graduate degrees from schools within the University of Alabama system.

Capilouto received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Alabama (Tuscaloosa), and his Doctor of Dental Medicine and master’s degrees in epidemiology from UAB. In addition, he received a doctorate in health policy and management from Harvard School of Public Health. 

Mary Lynne Capilouto, first lady of UK, also served at UAB before coming to UK and holding the office of the dean of the School of Dentistry.

During Capilouto’s presidency, UK’s graduation rates have shifted from 58.2 percent to 65.8 percent and the university has granted 12.4 percent more bachelor’s degrees.  In the student body, 5.6 percent more students are from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and 38.1 percent more students of underrepresented minorities have graduated.

UK’s total number of students has also grown more than 8.7 percent over the last nine years, with a current student population of over 30,500.

Research grants have also increased under his administration rising by more than 46.3 percent in the past 5 years generating more than $400 million annually, including the largest grant in UK history – a $87 million grant to help stop opioid crisis in Kentucky.

In 2019, Capilouto was chosen to serve as president of the SEC.

Under Capilouto’s direction, the university has also spent more than $2.6 billion  on campus projects such as classroom and research space, athletic facilities, resident halls and dining spaces.

His administration has not been without controversy. 

Capilouto met with student protesters in 2015 over race issues on campus; one of the protesters’s concerns, the mural in Memorial Hall, was not resolved and became a recurring campus concern.

In 2016, UK sued the Kentucky Kernel over the use records related to a sexual assault investigation involving a student and professor. After two years of legal battles, a Kentucky Court of Appeals panel ruled in favor of the Kernel.

Student protesters occupied UK’s Main Building in 2019. Two groups participated in the protest; one group campaigned for more basic needs funding, and the other for improvements for black students on campus (again, including the removal of the mural in Memorial Hall).

Capilouto met with the protesters the morning after the occupation began; not all of the demands raised by the protesters were resolved before the protest ended.

In June of 2020, Capilouto announced that the mural would come down as the campus re-evaluates its racial legacy in light of Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the police killings of Minneapolis resident George Floyd. and Louisville resident Breonna Taylor.

“We have not been immune from racial prejudice and hate, but I believe deeply that there is a commitment to doing better tomorrow than we are doing today,” said Capilouto in a campus email. “It’s against that imperfect and human backdrop that I am directing our facilities team to immediately begin the process of removing the mural in Memorial Hall.”

Also in 2020, the UK administration fired the coaches of its championship cheer program after an investigation into hazing and drinking at team retreats.

“Regrettably, the integrity of the program has been compromised by inappropriate behavior of some squad members during off-campus trips and lax oversight of coaches and the adviser,” said Capilouto at a press conference announcing the firings.

He said he was disturbed that the incidents were a violation of the trust put in the university, saying “I’d first like to say that we are sorry, that we didn’t meet the high standards you expect of us. And second of all, I want to say it’s a new day.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Capilouto and the administrative team chose to finish the semester online after spring break and to plan for a reopened campus in the fall, what UK has dubbed a “reinvented normal.”

Capilouto has received backlash for not taking a pay cut like many administrators at other institutions. UK estimated its COVID-related shortfall to be $70 million in revenue, which resulted in 10 percent cuts in most departments and furloughs and layoffs for university employees.

However, Vance’s email on Capilouto’s renewal also announced that 10 percent of Capilouto’s salary for the coming year will be directed toward the UK employee assistance fund.

Capilouto’s salary was altered from the first contract on at least two previous occasion: in 2013, the contract was amended to reflect an increase in deferred compensation to Capilouto’s excess funds. The compensation was raised from $50,000 to $120,000 annually for for the next five years.

In 2016, Capilouto’s contract was again revised to reflect an increase in base salary from $500,000 to $790,000, and renewed Capilouto’s tenure as presidency until June of 2021. The revised contract also allowed for termination without cause and increased deferred compensation to $178,000.

The terms of Capilouto’s contract renewal will be decided at the Board of Trustees meeting on June 19.