Provost candidate Donna Arnett wants to make an impact


Dean Donna Arnett answers questions at the Provost Search open forum in the Karpf Auditorium on Thursday, December 7, 2017 in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Rick Childress | Staff

One of the candidates for the soon-to-be-vacant UK provost position had a life-threatening stroke at the age of 27.

Donna Arnett, who is the current dean of the College of Public Health, told the story during Thursday morning’s open provost forum.

“It was that stroke and that life-threatening event that really pushed me to realize that life is short,” Arnett said. “I need to do something important.”

Because of that she tried to become an “active champion for students and for faculty.”

Arnett is one of two candidates that UK President Eli Capilouto has selected in his internal search to replace current Provost Tim Tracy. Tracy will be leaving at the end of December.

David Blackwell, the dean of the Gatton College of Business and Economics, is the other candidate.

Arnett is a former president of the American Heart Association, and was a first-generation college student.

During the question and answer portion of Thursday afternoon’s forum, which was attended by about 100 people, an audience member simply asked Arnett why she wants to take on this new role.

“I was born in Kentucky. My family has been in Kentucky since 1793,” she said. “I am passionate about the commonwealth of Kentucky, and we should be the university for Kentucky.”

She said she returned to Kentucky to make an impact, and she thinks she has the skills necessary to be provost and execute Capilouto’s vision for UK.

During Thursday morning’s forum, Arnett listed many “disruptions to higher education,” and told the crowd of about 100 students, faculty, staff and administrators what she would do to remedy those disruptions.

For students, Arnett wants to explore new “delivery models for instructions.” Essentially, that means more online and flipped classrooms.

“We must increase our online footprint,” Arnett said. UK classes have to “meet students where they are in the evening—online.”

Arnett wants to encourage more undergraduate research as it is a “great way to increase undergraduate success.”

Like Tracy, Arnett said she wants to raise retention and student success by paying close attention to the first-year undergraduate experience. She wants undergraduates to form closer relationships with their professors, and she wants to continue to support UK 101 and the Common Reading Experience.  

Arnett said that she is focused on raising retention rates not just because of the tuition and fees that brings in to the university, but because the education changes students’ lives. 

Arnett referenced a recent Inside Higher Ed report which said that, because of “uncertainty over federal policies,” a credit rating agency predicted that over the next 12 to 18 months public universities will be facing “money woes.”

“Increased costs—that part is bleak I have to admit,” Arnett said.

She promised to fight more for state funding, and if the grad tax is included in the Republican-backed tax bill that has passed through Congress, Arnett promised that she would try to enact short-term, emergency measures to make sure that graduate students can stay in school.

She said she wants to work with UK finance officers to ensure that currently-enrolled students would “have a livable wage.”

A graduate student asked Arnett a question, after which she asked him for his opinion.

“You want my opinion right now?” he asked.

Arnett said yes amid laughs from the audience, after which the graduate student shared his thoughts with her. 

Arnett said on Thursday afternoon that while these disruptions may seem bleak, she views them as opportunities as well. 

Arnett talked to Eric King, a UK federal lobbyist, who has been working closely with the office of Senate Majority Leader and Kentucky Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell. McConnell has appointed a group to reconcile the House and Senate bill, so that body would decide on the inclusion on the graduate student tax.

“Based on my conversation with Eric, McConnell will be pushing strongly to protect our graduate students,” Arnett said.

Blackwell’s two forums will be held on Friday, Dec. 8. The first will be from 8:45 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. in Karpf Auditorium, and the second will be from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. in Kincaid Auditorium.