By Matthew Keck —
One of the first words that came to mind for Dean Kimberly Kempf-Leonard when looking back on her time at the University of Louisville was “joy.” She said that her time at U of L was filled with it, but along with all the pleasantries came stress.
Coming from Southern Illinois University in 2014, Kempf-Leonard arrived at U of L during a tumultuous, yet hopeful time. “There was a lot of talk of all this new money that was coming in,” said Kempf-Leonard. “I was eager to come to a university that was growing and I could focus my energies on building and that’s what I really like to do.”
One of her first challenges as dean would be building a better sense of community between individual departments in the Arts & Sciences College. “I had a parade of people in here, each telling me about how great their department was or I went to their departments and each department told me how wonderful they were, but they didn’t know much about their colleagues in other departments as it seemed to me,” said Kempf-Leonard.
Kempf-Leonard felt the effects of building a closer community recently. “I in fact had a staff member retire recently who had worked here for well over 30 years, and she said that she thought I was the first dean who knew her name,” said Kempf-Leonard. “It made me cry that other people didn’t know her name.”
In addition to that, one of Kempf-Leonard’s proudest moments came earlier this year when U of L opened the new space for the Master of Fine Arts. “I think it’s very relevant to have an MFA in Fine Arts, but you can’t very well become accomplished artists if you don’t have a studio,” said Kempf-Leonard.
This moment felt especially impactful for her because she said that it addresses the issue of the Ninth Street divide in Louisville. She said that if U of L wants to keep its upward trajectory, they must get involved with city-wide issues as well. “I think that although the University of Louisville has had what we call a ‘signature partnership’ to work in trying to help the West End of Louisville for over 10 years now, I haven’t seen the needle move,” said Kempf-Leonard.
Although that area may be lacking, Kempf-Leonard feels good leaving U of L knowing it has some of the top teachers and researchers in America. She mentioned how special it is that U of L is a Carnegie R1. This allows for students to be involved and interact with professors whose work will be in the textbooks used in academia.
Even during the struggling times of her tenure, she talked about how the faculty and staff really stood behind U of L, which she said was special. “I think it’s quite telling that our faculty, who are high achievers, and could go anywhere; our staff who are also very excellent, [and] mostly local, want to stay,” said Kempf-Leonard. “During our worst times we didn’t have the attrition that I had thought we would. And they stayed cause they like working with each other.”
Something that Kempf-Leonard wishes she would have done more during her time is empower others. She said she tried to delegate work when necessary so everyone would have the information they needed.
Her favorite part of the dean’s job was the problem solving she did. She always enjoyed when people would come to her with new ideas or initiatives to help solve problems within their department of the university. “That’s been the most rewarding,” said Kempf-Leonard.
But her time as dean didn’t come without any regrets. One of the things she wishes she could have done is to raise salaries throughout the college. “The salaries that people are paid here are not competitive, and I would have very much liked to have been able to help both out faculty and staff [in that regard],” said Kempf-Leonard.
As she leaves, she said that the biggest challenge for the new dean will be practicing what they preach. “That’s one of the hallmarks is to be adaptable; be innovative; be accepting of change; be a promoter of change,” said Kempf-Leonard. “But there’s a wealth of resources among the faculty and staff and students here.”
She had one word of advice for the new dean: Listen. “My first semester I was invited to many departments, department meetings, to meet people and tour their facilities. And without exception, each one asked me what my vision was for the College,” said Kemp-Leonard. She used these meetings to help her build the vision for Arts and Sciences. “I knew I just wanted to be helpful and I was eager to get on that upward trajectory,” she said.
She said she has been busy in her last month making sure everyone has the right information they need and things are in the right place. Even though her departure came sooner than expected, she said she feels good about leaving things where they are.
Kempf-Leonard has been the A&S College dean at U of L for six years since 2014. Her tenure was set to end at the end of the Spring 2020 semester, but she submitted an early resignation citing personal issues in early December.
Dec. 31 will be her last day as A&S dean. The search for a new dean of the College has been ongoing since August. David Owen was announced as the interim Dean Dec. 13.
File Photo // The Louisville Cardinal