Trustees split leading into vote for new chair

As the first meeting of the new school year convenes, doubt still remains about whether the next head of UK’s Board of Trustees will be a man or a woman.

Trustee Myra Tobin, a retired insurance broker, will be nominated to head the board at today’s meeting, said faculty trustee Jeff Dembo. Although he said he believes Tobin is the most qualified candidate, Dembo also said board members have strong, differing opinions on who should be board chair.

“It ain’t over ‘til it’s over,” Dembo said. “I think it’s going to be close.”

On Sept. 4, the board’s nominating committee recommended trustee Steve Branscum, a Russell Springs contractor and a graduate of Western Kentucky University, for the chair.

Since then, e-mails and phone calls have circulated among board members and UK faculty. The topic of discussion: whether the Board of Trustees should have a woman serve as chair for the first time in university history.

“If we have choices between equally qualified candidates, I will continue to support a woman as chair,” Dembo said.

The board will also select a new vice chair and secretary for the 2007-08 year at today’s meeting.

If Tobin is elected along with last week’s nominees for vice chair and secretary, Mira Ball and Pam May, it will be the first time women have held all three of the UK board’s senior positions.

“I think (Tobin) brings a different set of qualifications,” said staff trustee Russ Williams. “I think her long-standing affiliation with the university is important.”

Williams said he will vote for Tobin, a 1962 UK graduate, to lead the board.

“She’s been a part of the university family since the 1960s,” Williams said. “This to me seems to be the next natural step.”

Discussion on whether a woman should head the board has extended beyond board members.

“One of the things that is happening on this campus right now is that we need to pay more attention to diversity,” said Deborah Crooks, director of the Gender and Women’s Studies Program.

Crooks, as head of the Gender and Women’s Studies Steering Committee, sent each Board of Trustees member an e-mail requesting the board reject the slate of nominees if a woman is not nominated as the board chair.

“Why this year? Things come together at a particular point and time,” Crooks said.

In his presentation to the Board of Trustees today, UK President Lee Todd will ask the board to weigh progress in diversity more heavily in the evaluation of his performance and progress toward UK’s top-20 goals, according to an Aug. 30 news release.

“This is the message, this is the goal and this is the image that the university is trying to present, and we wonder why this isn’t happening at the very highest level,” Crooks said.