President laid groundwork for UK’s success



Column by Cassidy Herrington

I am a journalist; therefore, I am quick to question authority. However, in my brief dealings with Dr. Lee Todd, I am generally pleased.

I transferred to UK my sophomore year from Saint Louis University, a small, private university in the heart of a diverse, urban city. The president was a disconnected “big brother” figure, whose rare contact with students materialized only as caricature drawings in the weekly student publication.

Because of its size and location, controversy at SLU was plentiful, but the student newspaper was often powerless. The shackles of censorship bound the publication, but we still somehow managed to parody the school president. He became an inside joke, driving his luxury car around campus and increasing tuition while giggling in his wood-paneled corner office.

Todd, however, is not the typical university president. I’ve seen him walking on Rose Street, donning a hard hat for a ground-breaking ceremony and playing pool at Finals Midnight Crunch Brunch. Todd is everywhere, and his spirit is contagious.

Al Cross, a former poltical writer at the Courier-Journal and a long-time Kentucky journalist, said Todd  is unlike any president this university or state has ever seen.

Todd’s Top 20 Business Plan was his boldest endeavor. In the months following his proposal for the plan in 2005, he aggressively lobbied for legislators to approve the massive budget request. This feat would spawn gray hairs on even the boldest leader, yet he succeeded and received full funding.

“I was struck by how much the legislators bought into this plan,” Cross said.

In his conference Wednesday, Todd said talking to legislators will be easier without his title.

“I’ll be able to say some things that I couldn’t say when I had this position,” Todd said.

Todd’s presence will still be felt; he is the university’s greatest asset and should maintain influence, even under the leadership of a new president.

Five years after its inception, the plan brought an increase in enrollment, graduating students and research expenditures. Whether or not UK meets Top 20 status by 2020, Todd helped pull UK away from the “Kentucky Ugly” slump and toward high academic performance.

Yesterday, Todd mentioned Kentucky’s funding of prisons and said the capital is “not soft on crime, but soft on edutcation.”

Todd approaches education with reckless abandon, and the Top 20 initiative is his unfinished project. Todd calls for a transitional leader to take his place this summer.

I anticipate the next president will continue to demand excellence, particularly in education and research. The new ideas formulated in academia are the keys for growth in the future — economic, political and social.

The president got it right in his 2001 inaugural address:

“Our future, like no other time in our history, depends on education,” Todd said.

His vision left me humbled. I question authority, but now I realize there is also great capacity for applause.