Trustees name first-ever woman chair

UK grad Mira Ball hesitant to accept nomination at first, swears to do ‘very best’

Board of Trustees member Mira Ball was selected in a surprise decision yesterday as the first woman in university history to head UK’s top governing body.

The board chose Ball over fellow members Stephen Branscum and Myra Tobin, who were also nominated for board chair.

Faculty trustee Ernie Yanarella told Ball and the board that yesterday’s decision marked an important victory in pushing through the glass ceiling that keeps women from holding positions at UK’s highest level.

“I just heard the glass breaking,” Yanarella said. “Congratulations.”

Branscum, who was recommended by the board’s nominating committee Sept. 4, withdrew his name from consideration yesterday. He recommended that Ball, a home-building company executive, lead the board.

“I think the decision was bigger than me,” Branscum said after yesterday’s meeting. “I was honored to step aside.

“I, throughout the nomination process, supported Ms. Ball,” he said.

After outgoing chairman James Hardymon announced he would not seek another term as board chair, Branscum and other trustees approached Ball and asked if she would be willing to head the board,  faculty trustee Jeff Dembo said.

“I think Mira Ball is an example of what kind of a role model this university needs,” Branscum said.

Ball won in an 11-6 vote against the only other nominee, Tobin. Trustees Penny Brown and JoEtta Wicklisse abstained from voting and member Erwin Roberts was absent.

Wicklisse said she abstained because of her friendship with both Ball and Tobin.

In a 12-7 decision, the board elected Branscum as vice chair over Tobin. Trustee Pam May was re-elected unanimously as board secretary.

Gov. Ernie Fletcher issued a statement yesterday praising the board’s choice and called it “yet another gain in diversity in the commonwealth over the past year.”

“(Ball) and Steve Branscum — who has also been an ardent supporter of the university for many years — will make an outstanding team and will help lead UK in the coming years,” Fletcher said.

Ball, a 1956 UK graduate and a former Fayette County schoolteacher, was also the first woman to serve as chair for the Greater Lexington Chamber of Commerce.

Being chosen to lead the “boy’s club” that existed in the Chamber of Commerce in 1991 was possibly the most surprising event in her life, Ball said.

Initially, she hesitated to seek nomination as chair to UK’s board. In yesterday’s meeting, Dembo, who last week expressed outrage over no woman being nominated for chair, said he asked Tobin if she would accept a nomination for the chair after he thought Ball would not run.

Ball said she did not know she would be nominated for board chair even 24 hours before the Board convened. After talking with her husband and other trustees yesterday about the possibility, Ball decided to accept the nomination.

“I’ve had a lot of people talk to me, and I had some very persuasive people talk to me,” Ball said.

Many of the trustees did not know about Branscum’s decision to nominate Ball until the short time between the board luncheon and the full meeting.

“I don’t think we (knew) until about two minutes after our luncheon,” Yanarella said. “The rumor was rife right afterward.”

After the board filled the three vacant positions, Ball addressed the trustees for the first time as chairwoman.

“Just because at first I was a little reticent at this, I just wanted to let you all know I will do the very best that I can,” Ball said.

With that, the Board of Trustees began its regular business.

The board approved establishing the Center for the Study of Violence Against Children. The center, in the College of Social Work, will involve research and education programs that work to prevent child abuse.

A Center for Clinical and Translational Science to convert science to clinical practice will also be established at UK.

The board also approved $3 million for renovations to the Thomas Hunt Morgan Biological Sciences Building. Renovations will include upgrading the fume hoods and teaching and research labs. The new funding will also include eight new faculty hires.