As Kimberly Kempf-Leonard begins her new job, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, she has big shoes to fill. The building that holds her office, Gardiner Hall, is still decorated on the outside with a massive picture of her predecessor, the late J. Blaine Hudson, who was a well-respected and beloved dean during his tenure from 2004 to 2012.
Yet she enters U of L with the confidence that she can make the university a better place to learn and grow.
“I believe a university education should be foundational for people in whatever career they’re going to go in to,” said Kempf-Leonard, who comes to Louisville after three years as Dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Southern Illinois University.
She stated that she was happy to live in a city again, referring to her past experience as a professor at schools such as University of Missouri – St. Louis and the University of Texas at Dallas. In her higher education career, she has been successful as both a scholar of criminology and an administrator.
Arts and Sciences, the largest academic unit at U of L, is a substantial increase in budget and responsibility from SIU. Working with a larger budget than she is used to, she says, gives her a unique mindset in handling budget cuts.
“I think it’s inevitable,” she says. “You just have to have a rational process with the goal in mind of preserving quality educational degree programs and an environment that promotes research.”
According to Kempf-Leonard, the rising cost of education and shrinking budgets for universities are at the root of many of higher education’s problems. She acknowledges anxiety among new students about the state of the economy and the post-graduation job market.
“I think we just have to think in a whole new way in higher education about how we deliver our educational services and degree programs.”
“Whenever there’s a challenge, I try to look at it as an opportunity. I’m an optimistic person. How can we turn this into something that is beneficial?”
One of the solutions she recommends is interdisciplinary education. She states that breaking free from “departmental silos” will allow for more cutting-edge programs at the university. She plans to implement similar interdisciplinary behavior in academic advising in A & S.
Students should not expect to notice changes initially, however.
“I don’t plan on making any major changes,” says Kempf-Leonard. “I’m in information gathering mode right now.”
She does, though, think that she can work on communication during her first year, saying it is “at the root of a lot of problems,” and that it’s improvement would increase the overall efficacy of the College.
Provost Shirley Willihnganz, who was one of the final decision-makers in her hiring, had nothing but kind words for Dr. Kempf-Leonard.
“We’re excited about Dr. Kempf-Leonard’s arrival on campus. She already is working to engage the faculty, staff, students, and alumni. She’s shown an interest in improving communication and teamwork within the college, building morale and improving accountability and transparency. The response from within the college so far has been tremendous, and I’m looking forward to working with her on these important initiatives.”
When asked what students should know about her, Kempf-Leonard expressed that she was approachable.
“I’m eager to come out and meet a lot of students,” said Kempf-Leonard. “Hopefully they will feel comfortable coming to my office.