Listening tour gives trustees wake-up call

By on January 23, 2018

By Shelby Brown, Joseph Lyell & Megan Brewer —

The board of trustees’ presidential listening tour concluded Jan. 18 after four sessions. Trustees Bonita Black, James Rogers, Ronald Wright, Enid Trucios-Haynes, Brian Cromer, SGA president Vishnu Tirumala and Bill Funk of the presidential search firm listened to more than 100 speakers.

Many said they desired integrity, transparency and inclusiveness in the next president of U of L. Speakers were angry about the closed search. They also said all finalists should publicly visit campus.

Besides discussing the next president, faculty and staff aired grievances related to employee morale, the salary freeze and maintenance of the university. At the end of the third session, Rogers said he was impressed by the heart and compassion from the people. He praised faculty and staff’s tenacity to continue to work at U of L despite challenges.

Rogers said he’s learned a lot from the sessions. He said he was shocked by the duration and effects of the salary freeze.

“Sometimes staff feels like a second class citizen and how do we address that? So, I think it’s got to be somebody very open,” Rogers said.

The search panel announced Jan. 18 all finalists will meet with a much wider pool of university representatives now—a larger group than just the board of trustees.

Applications remain open until Feb. 15. Funk said 45 candidates have applied and Black expects 20 more before the portal closes.

Black said the university could have a president seated by May.

Professor Stephen Hanson said the perception of the presidential search was crucial.

“A closed search is not a legitimate option for U of L in 2018,” Hanson said. He also suggested the next president should be an outsider.

Speakers commented on dysfunction in the board of trustees, a desire for more diversity and representation and the standard to which administration is held.

Questions frequently arose about candidates meeting with the campus community. Trucios-Haynes said finalists were highly encouraged, but it isn’t mandatory.

In the second session, a graduate student asked how the board will weigh academia versus financial savvy as strengths. Tirumala said the two are not mutually exclusive.

Black agreed, but affirmed the academy should take precedence. Funk said the consensus from the tours up to that point was the next president should come from an academic background.

Associate Professor of astronomy Gerard Williger mentioned U of L is ranked last in almost all academic categories in the ACC.

“If our sports teams had these kind of rankings, our coaches wouldn’t last very long,” Williger said.

In session three, “We’re looking for an academic to lead academics,” Professor Michael Cunningham said.

Professor Avery Kolers said U of L’s next president must have roots in faculty and understand academic freedom. Kolers mentioned threats of cuts to academic programs.

“A president has to come from the faculty to appreciate the importance of academic programs,” Kolers said.

Kolers said it was important not only for candidates to visit campus, but for the trustees themselves to spend more time on campus as well.

“Trustees should be visiting departments and getting to know people,” Kolers said.

Speakers asked how diverse the candidate pool is. Funk said multiple women and minorities had applied for the position.

Faculty member Elizabeth Riley said the decision to close the search further eroded trust between the board and constituencies.

Academic coordinator Andrew Grubb said U of L’s next president should take the job for the opportunity to make the university better.

“Someone who’s not in it as a resume line or anything like that, but somebody who really sees the reclamation project that’s here,” Grubb said.

The last listening tour drew the smallest crowd.

Former SGA president O.J. Oleka requested a summary of qualities people have asked for in a president. Trustees responded with a long list of integrity, honesty, diversity-mindedness, inclusiveness, a dedication to research, transparency and the ability to move the university agenda forward.

Funk said trustees will spend a lot of time with candidates. “Before the search is complete they will have a pretty good feel for them,” Funk said.

Funk estimated 15 of the applicants for president are viable candidates. He said issues at the university have “chilled the pool.” He added they are not looking for a person who gets scared off, but instead wants to turn the university around.

“I hope we have a tough decision,” Rogers said.

Photo by Arry Schofield / The Louisville Cardinal

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