Todd chats about more than cash

Anyone walking into the Classroom Building last week saw walls plastered with flyers featuring a picture of Kentucky with a dollar sign and a question mark.

Although posters advertising “A Conversation With Lee Todd” focused on the statewide budget deficit, about 50 members of the campus community had questions for the UK president at last night’s forum that ranged from UK-owned Robinson Forest to laws about carrying firearms on campus to tuition rates.

Of course, Gov. Steve Beshear’s proposed budget — which calls for a $50 million cut to UK’s funding over the next two fiscal years — did come up.

“The state made us a top-20 plan. If the state’s not helping us at all, when’s when as far as your part?” asked integrated strategic communications senior James Davidson Jr. “When do you say, ‘Enough is enough. If you want us to be top 20, why do you cut our budgets?’ ”

Todd responded by saying ambitious goals for higher education will help move the state forward even in the face of steep budget cuts.

“We told (the state) that this is what it’s going to take if we want to get to that goal,” Todd said. “We need $20.9 million, and they gave it to us last time. So there are legislators down there who really do want to help us.”

Environmental issues arose several times. Computer science junior Chet Gray asked Todd why UK has not signed the Presidents Climate Commitment, an agreement signed by university presidents to work toward environmental goals, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“As long as we have a coal-powered plant across the street, we can’t do that,” Todd said. “They don’t ask for intent, they ask for results.”

After the forum, Gray said he was disappointed that UK would not be signing the nationwide commitment anytime soon.

“I know it’s ‘King Coal,’ but there’s got to be some way to reduce the dependence,” he said.

Several students asked about what UK is doing to improve diversity after this year’s incidents, including a racially charged Oct. 5 Kernel editorial cartoon likening UK’s Greek system to a slave auction and an e-mail forwarded by Student Government President Nick Phelps that falsely described presidential-hopeful Barack Obama as a Muslim and spoke negatively of Islam.

Todd called both incidents unfortunate, saying “any negative publicity doesn’t help, certainly.” He also said a new top diversity official, the recently hired Vice President for Institutional Diversity Judy “J.J.” Jackson, would help bring a fresh perspective.

“I’m a white male. That’s just the way it is. It’s been that way for 61 years,” Todd said. “So I need someone who thinks much different than me on certain issues.”

Two students raised the issue of a bill currently in the state legislature that would allow guns in cars on university campuses.

The idea of concealed carry on campus is designed for students who have already passed background checks and state regulations, said forestry senior Nicholas Peters.

“They are legal in a sense they are not going to do anything harmful with firearms on campus,” Peters said.

“Is there any guarantee of that?” Todd responded quickly. “Just because they’ve been certified by the state doesn’t mean they’re not going to do something harmful on campus.”

Todd said that although he and some of the people in attendance disagreed last night, he thought the experience was valuable.

“I always agree to disagree on certain issues, but they need to know where I stand,” he said.