By Shelby Brown —
Six trustees were present in a half-filled Middleton Auditorium in Strickler Hall to update the campus community on the presidential search.
The Presidential Search Faculty Consultation Committee hosted the event. Trustees listened and answered questions about the presidential search, rebuilding trust and transparency at U of L.
PSFCC co-chair Susan Jarosi said she thought the session was positive.
“We were really pleased that the board members were receptive to this idea, this invitation,” Jarosi said. “We’re going to let them take the lead, but it sounds like they are eager to continue this, so I hope this will be the first of more direct communication between faculty, staff and students.”
Board chair David Grissom agreed the meeting was a good first step. He said he hoped the session would be the beginning of a continuing dialogue between the board and campus community. He suggested meeting regularly to help build back trust and transparency between constituencies.
Grissom called the January’s listening tours “a real eye-opener.”
Grissom addressed the anger, resentment and distrust the trustees encountered from constituents during the listening tours. He said they were justified in feeling so. Grissom said trustees also heard fierce loyalty to the university.
“This group of faculty and staff, their trust has been shattered. There’s no way you can say it any better or any different. They’ve been promised things, they haven’t always been told the truth, they’ve watched large amounts of money go out the front door while their salaries remain constant for ten years — wouldn’t that make you angry?” Grissom said.
Trustee Bonita Black said the information gathered from the listening tours is being taken seriously. She said trustees have already interviewed one candidate and will continue the process in coming days.
“We’re going to put them through fire and see who rises to the top,” Black said of the interview process. Faculty representative on the board Enid Trucios-Haynes and SGA President Vishnu Tirumala said they were pleased with the candidate pool.
Sophomore Elliot Kelly Jr. asked about the next president’s plan to keep diversity and inclusion a priority. Black assured the candidates were diverse in ethnicity, race, gender and other qualities.
Another audience member asked what the “putting them through the fire” process looked like. Black said the vetting process has been underway for some time and one candidate who “had a skeleton in his closet,” was removed.
Junior Briana Williams asked about putting student priorities first. The trustees agreed the next president must be an agent of change.
Tirumala said he asks candidates about their leadership style and how student opinion is incorporated.
“Hopefully it’s not ‘ivory tower,'” Tirumala said.
Black said the next president shouldn’t be a clean-up crew, but a visionary to lead U of L to the future. Grissom added they should be hungry for success.
The trustee consensus is integrity is the top quality in the next president.
“Lack of integrity has taken us down the primrose path,” Grissom said. “If there’s the slightest question about integrity in a candidate, we’ll draw a line through their name.”
Professor Ricky Jones took the microphone next and grilled the trustees about transparency and respect.
“A lot of people don’t want to come to sessions like this, they feel like it’s a sham,” Jones said.
Grissom said the board is committed and trust can’t be rebuilt overnight. He’s hopeful that having regular sessions will help.
“The proof will be in the pudding,” Grissom said.
Wright said closed sessions during trustee meetings can be frustrating for those demanding transparency. He said if the board goes behind closed doors it’s to talk about legal matters.
“It’s hard to swallow,” Wright said. “But some of it isn’t allowed to be spoken about in public.”
Black said it can be difficult to trust someone you don’t know, but she said the trustees are trying to be truthful and genuine.
“We wouldn’t be here if we weren’t committed to U of L. None of us want to drag the university down. There’s no agenda,” she said.
Trustees have been interviewing candidates in executive session this past week at the University Club. Security has been seen posted at the building’s exits. The sessions last for several hours behind closed doors. The trustees do not speak to the media after the meetings.
Photo by Arry Schofield / The Louisville Cardinal