Capilouto hosts informal chat with randomly chosen staff members



By Luke Glaser

Coming from Patterson Office Tower, dining services and the hospital arrived wearing scrubs and sport coats to sit down with Eli Capilouto for some doughnuts and discussion.

The president of UK sat down in the library room of the Boone Center Tuesday for the first “Breakfast with President Eli Capilouto,” an event sponsored by the UK Staff Senate.

“President Capilouto’s office approached us. He wanted an opportunity to reach out to the staff,” said Shelli Hilton, a member of the Staff Senate public relations committee. “We are very honored as Staff Senate to host this event.”

All UK staff members were eligible to attend the breakfast, and were chosen through a lottery system.

“I was kind of shocked I got to go,” said Michelle Ashcraft, assistant director of New Student and Parent Programs.

Ashcraft was one of about 20 staff members chosen to attend.

Denise Stephens, an office manager with Student Involvement, went hoping “to hear what (Capilouto) had to say about staff,” she said. “He’s been working with the academic side and students, and I came to get insight into what he’s thinking for staff going forward.”

Capilouto said he was looking forward to an equally educational experience.

“To listen and learn,” he said when asked what he was hoping to get out of the morning.

“To listen to our staff and learn what’s on their minds,” he continued. “I hope through the questions they ask and the info I give, they learn things we’re working on and things that are important for our campus.”

After sitting down to orange juice, pastries and muffins, the president walked up to the front of the room to start the discussion.

“I understand you all were randomly selected. You should have saved your luck for the lottery,” he joked.

Capilouto then opened the floor for questions. He said he wanted the discussion to be informal and the staff was more than willing to comply.

Questions covered almost every facet of university life, from budgetary concerns and the privatization of campus housing, to classroom size and even dishwashers.

Marilou Johnson, an administrative assistant with molecular and cellular biochemistry, said her department saved money buying dishwashers from Sears. They lost all that money when they had to pay $22,000 for the Physical Plant Division to install them.

“I don’t want anyone at PPD to lose their jobs,” she said. “But I don’t think it’s a good way to spend our limited resources.”

Capilouto agreed and said he wanted to solve these scenarios by spreading the decision-making around.

“I think there are hundreds of thousands of decisions made every day at the university,” he said. “The more people involved in those decisions, the better off we’re going to be.”

The breakfast took an emotional turn when Barbara Waldmann-Ward, a registered nurse in Pediatric Oncology, asked Capilouto for assistance with her ward.

“I love this university. You can find where you belong,” said the 30-year employee and breast cancer survivor. “But we as nurses feel we are being left out of the decision making process.”

Capilouto assured he would look into the matter and thanked her for her candor.

“I meet with the President’s Council this morning. I will share with them what I heard today,” Capilouto said.

Capilouto was satisfied with the results of the morning.

“I left the session with staff this morning emboldened — both by the questions I heard and the commitment I felt to this institution among everyone participating,” he said. “I was so impressed that questions kept turning back to the thing that most impressed me about

UK from the beginning: We are a students-first university.”

Ashcraft was inspired by the questions the staff asked and the unity they displayed to the president.

“It was a good opportunity for all departments on campus to get together,” she said. “Everyone’s on the same page and fighting for the same issues on campus.”