President-select Capilouto committed to UK, Top 20 plan


Kernel Staff File Photo

By Patrick T. Sullivan

The wait is finally over.

The UK Board of Trustees unanimously voted to select University of Alabama at Birmingham Provost Eli Capilouto as its preferred candidate to be UK’s 12th president Sunday, ending the roughly six-month long search to replace outgoing President Lee Todd.

Capilouto, 61, will be subject to student, faculty and staff forums Monday before he is officially named president.

“We couldn’t be happier with this selection,” Board of Trustees Chairman Britt Brockman said. “The University of Alabama has made great strides nationally. They’ve taken a very hospital-oriented university and over the last decade, gone into make their undergraduate education as strong as their hospital side. Eli Capilouto has been at the forefront and has been responsible for most of, if not all, of that growth.”

An Alabama native, Capilouto has held several positions at UAB since joining the faculty in 1975. He was a dean in its School of Public Health and a senior executive administrator before becoming provost in 2005.

During his tenure at UAB, he helped lead the adoption of a more transparent budgeting system and continued increases in research funding for an institution that is one of the nation’s leading public medical and health sciences campuses.

Capilouto holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Alabama, a Doctorate in Dentistry and Master’s of Public Health from UAB and a Doctorate in Health Policy and Management from the Harvard University School of Public Health.

Brockman said the Board recognized Capilouto as a prime candidate early in its Sunday afternoon deliberations.

“He stood hands and shoulders above the other candidates,” Brockman said. “He brings the full complement of what we’re looking for.”

Dreaming big

During his first press conference, Capilouto stressed the importance of UK setting its sights on being the best. He cited UAB’s growth from 15 to 85 city blocks, noting the school would have done Birmingham a disservice had it not strived for excellence.

Capilouto said he wishes to bring the ambition that worked in Birmingham to Lexington. The president-select said UK’s Top 20 plan attracted him to UK even though he knew very little about it.

“Dreaming big dreams is important,” he said. “I don’t think you should let those dreams go.”

Capilouto acknowledged changes in the economy and among students that may have altered the plan Todd instituted in 2001. To make sure Todd’s plan stays its course, Capilouto said it would take a university-wide effort, something he coined “the power of we.”

“I look forward to having a dialogue with the faculty, students and staff and along with the trustees to learn what is the best way to chart that future and maintaining those hopes and dreams,” Capilouto said.

Capilouto’s belief in dreams stems from his ancestry.

His grandfather was the first to come to America from a small island off the coast of Turkey. He pushed fruit carts and worked in cafes to provide for his family. Although the first generation of American Capiloutos did not all go to college, Capilouto said everyone within his generation did.

“It’s that kind of commitment that I have for every citizen of Kentucky,” he said. “They deserve to have that dream answered as well, just as it was in my family.”

The first visit

Capilouto and his wife, Mary Lynne, first came to Lexington on Tuesday. They did not inform UK of their visit.

Clad in tennis shoes, khaki pants and a baseball hat, Capilouto strolled around campus and interacted with students. He said he was elated by the positivity students and staff extolled.

“I learned that you’re the real thing,” he said. “I learned it from the staff I met, who talked about their deep dedication to the students.”

Capilouto said he was particularly impressed by students at the Stuckert Career Center and the Singletary Center for the Arts.

“What’s important to me is the quality of life you can offer,” he said. “Not just to us, but whoever you want to attract here.”

After visiting campus, the Capiloutos ate downtown, and “learned how much people love this community and love this university.”

On Tuesday evening, the couple went to the medical center and casually visited with patients.

“It reminds me of what I feel when I walk around our medical center campus (at UAB),” he said. “These wonderful academic health centers afford opportunities for the best of care for people from all walks of life.”

The hospital visit helped the couple realize they wanted to be part of UK, Capilouto said.

The Capiloutos’ unannounced visit pleased University Senate Council Chair Hollie Swanson.

“They were glowing about it,” Swanson said. “You can just get caught up in that excitement. They love what they do so much.”

An academic wife

The new president is not the only Capilouto to ascend the academic ladder.

His wife, Dr. Mary Lynne Capilouto, received her dental degree with honors and the Dean’s Medal at the University of Alabama School of Dentistry at UAB in 1977. She completed graduate training in a general practice residency at the University of Alabama Hospitals and a dental health residency and an oral disease epidemiology fellowship at Harvard School of Dental Medicine.

In 1986, she received a master of science degree in epidemiology from Harvard School of Public Health. She retired from her service as dean of the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s School of Dentistry in 2005.

The couple have a daughter, Emily, 23, who attended Boston University.

Despite her pedigree, Mary Lynne Capilouto said she will leave Birmingham to support her husband.

“Eli and I both share a passion for education,” Mary Lynne Capilouto said. “I’m here as a partner with Eli to join the University of Kentucky. Right now, what I’ll specifically be doing we’ll explore and see.”

In her retirement, Mary Lynne Capilouto has been involved in a variety of community and philanthropic efforts as well as teaching part-time at UAB School of Dentistry.

“I’ve been a very busy person in my retirement,” she said. “I’m excited about all the possibilities here. I’m excited about learning all about the community and the university and whatever roles I can fulfill in moving the university forward and supporting Eli.”

What’s next

On Monday, Eli Capilouto will face a gauntlet of forums.

Three one-hour forums have been planned so that the campus community can learn more about Capilouto. He will briefly speak at each forum, but the bulk of the time will be spent answering questions from the audience.

At 10 a.m., Capilouto will address the faculty in the Worsham Theater. At 11:30, he will address the staff at the same location.

Brockman said Capilouto will be wholly accepted by the faculty and staff.

“We think he exemplifies all the qualities we’re looking for in a president,” he said. “I believe he’ll have the full confidence of our faculty and staff.”

At 2 p.m., Capilouto will answer questions from students in the Worsham Theater.

Outgoing Student Government President Ryan Smith believes the students will accept Capilouto as well.

“He represents the utmost integrity and has a high level of experience,” he said. “He fits really well with the university and relates well with students. He has a track record of being student focused.”

The forums will begin a process of earning the UK community’s trust, Capilouto said.

“We know that we will have to earn your trust each and every day,” he said. “But we are committed to doing so.”