Faculty say academic president ideal

By Patrick T. Sullivan

As the search for UK’s next president winds down, members of the faculty agree that the selected candidate should come from academia and not a strictly political or business background.

“The search committee should be looking for someone who has gone up the academic ladder,” political science professor Ernie Yanarella said. “The next president must have demonstrated scholarship.”

Yanarella’s comments come a day after the Lexington Herald-Leader identified former chancellor of the University System of Ohio and well-known Ohio politician Eric Fingerhut as a candidate and possible finalist for president. Fingerhut currently serves as a senior fellow for Boston-based non-profit Jobs for the Future, and has served as a faculty member at Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio and a senior lecturer at Case Western Reserve University.

Not speaking on Fingerhut specifically, Yanarella said his ideal candidate would be someone who has risen within an academic institution and can highlight and develop UK’s faculty and staff.

“The strongest concern is the next president’s management type,” Yanarella said. “There needs to be an educational style that recognizes that academics are first and foremost.”

While the development of UK’s academic facets is an important task for the new president, it is not the only realm the new leader should be adept in, Yanarella said.

“The next president has to be a good manager of money, someone who knows budgeting and can use creative ways to leverage,” he said. “This person cannot dig us into a deeper economic hole.”

While Yanarella stressed fiscal responsibility, faculty representative for the Board of Trustees and finance professor Joe Peek said the new president must keep money in mind, but not run UK like a business.

“We’re selling teaching, research and service, not something like telephones,” Peek said. “(UK) is trying to improve the standard of living in Kentucky by educating its citizens.”

Like Yanarella, Peek said his ideal candidate would have an academic background. The next president must also possess business management skills, as he or she will have to make tough business decisions, Peek said.

In addition to having an academic background and good management skills, Peek and Yanarella agree the next president should be ready to delve into the political realm.

“They have to be politically astute,” Peek said. “Money does come from the state.”

The next president should be prepared to lobby at the state assembly, Yanarella said.

To function well within politics, the next president must recognize the pride Kentucky has in UK both as academic and athletic entities and pursue change with patience, former Kentucky governor and current Pikeville College President Paul Patton said. Patton served as governor from 1995 to 2003. He was not considered in the UK presidential search.

“It could be 20, 40, even 50 years before we see results,” he said, noting that his ideal candidate would also come from academia. “Changes will take time. It’s a very long turnaround.”

In addition to political proficiency and patience, Patton said the next president must continue to enhance its athletics.

“In a state that’s not No. 1 in a lot of things, UK athletics is something people look at with pride,” he said.

While the athletic department functions has grown into a nationally recognizable brand, the next president must strike a balance between academics and sports, Yanarella said.

“Sports is one of the few growth industries here at UK,” he said. “Athletics has to give back.”

UK athletics had a budget of $13.8 million in 1987, when it began its annual donation of $1.25 million back to the university’s general fund, Yanarella said in an email.

Although the next president will be faced with problems regarding UK’s diverse facets, Patton said he is pleased in its progress under Todd.

“The fundamental direction Todd has us going in is good,” he said. “We just need some new inspiration.”