By Tate Luckey 

On Monday, April 3rd, I sat down with U of L President Kim Schatzel in her office in Grawyemeyer Hall for a half-hour conversation about the past two months in her new role. The amount of information she is currently taking in about the University and Louisville is astonishing. Our conversation is transcribed below. 

Tate Luckey: Let me start with this: You’re two months in. How do you feel?

President Schatzel: I feel great!

TL: How are things? What’s the pulse you’re picking up from campus?

PS: So, I’ve done listening tours, which was really something that I’ve made a priority; I’ve done probably about 20 listening tours, probably with anywhere between 800-1200 people: students, staff, community, business, Frankfort, DC; just talked to as many people as I possibly can.

People have been open [about] their perspectives on the University. I kind of framed it as “If you were me, what should I learn more about?” People could say, “You should learn more about X”. If you tell me that, say, “The lights don’t work in this building”, we’ll write that down, but if I heard that four or five times it means that really that is a maintenance issue.

I’ve been pretty intentional about not drawing conclusions until the end of the semester when we’re done with them because I want to make sure I listen actively and effectively. People have been really kind, its a gift to me to have people come to take their time to come to participate so, it’s been great.

TL: Are you able to tell me about some of the kinds of themes that you’re hearing so far?

PS: Sure. People have asked about the compensation study, and the budget; people have asked about plans, but I’ve shared the fact that it’s a listening session, not a talking session. We still have a strategic plan.

The emphasis on student success is something that has been across the board– the important connections within the commonwealth, in terms of what we are as an anchor institution, and in terms of being a source of pride. People really have a strong sense of community. Stability is another one. People really want stability in terms of my role.

People want to do hard things. The kinds of things we want to do as a community will take two, three, four years, five years — to have a president that is present and able to support that kind of vision and effort is important to the community.

TL: I see. So then what’s been the hardest thing about transitioning so far to here from Towson?

PS: Um…there’s really no hard thing. People have been really kind, welcoming, and really supportive. I’ve really appreciated getting that kind of warm welcome from our community on campus and off campus. It”s been great.

TL: I do want to touch on the community aspect. I was reading some articles about your time at Towson, and while you were there it seemed like while you were really emphasized trying to connect Baltimore County to Towson. Do you have any plans that you can talk about or have in mind in terms of connecting the greater Louisville area to the University?

PS: I mean it’s still really early. I’ve made pretty good connections with [Mayor Greenberg] and Metro Council. Because of the fact we have the Health Sciences Campus, and then we have the institutes, and then [Belknap], there’s lots of opportunity for us to be able to partner with community, business, the Mayor, legislature, even the Governor.

Universities tend to be wonderful sources as anchor institutions of innovation and working with community members to be able to have a plan; I’m looking forward to that.

TL: In talking with a few members of SGA, are you able to give any insight on any connections you’ve made with students in these leadership positions and working with them?

PS: The Health Sciences Campus is interesting because HSC just didn’t feel it was getting the attention. I’ve probably had four or five listening sessions there, and they’ve been really well received. The groups (including the students), really emphasized that the work of that campus is different, and the fact that they are not here [on Belknap] presents some level of challenge.

They talk about the fact there’s no food– a lot of food choices. It just kinda speaks volumes in terms of top of mind.

I’m going to be spending a week a month at that campus. It really helps being someplace versus having a meeting; a lot of things that you learn sometimes are very serendipitous because you aren’t there. I want to make sure that I create that opportunity.

With regards to the student groups, in terms of the SGA and a lot of the leadership groups on campus that I have been working with in terms of student activities, [like] the Cultural Center– I’m developing relationships with them to be able to do it. I’m really pleased with the fact that the SGA (as an organization) has a history of having an impact.

In talking to the officers of the current administration as well as the folks that are going to be in the new administration, I am really pleased to have them be a real input body to the president.

TL: It seems then that your approach, at least, to building relationships with students is to build some community and get just really deep into it. 

PS: Yes, they’re smart. Our students are smart.

TL: I’m curious: Coming from Maryland, which city has better food?

PS: It’s really interesting you say that. I would say: Louisville has better food, except for seafood. Oysters in particular. I love oysters, but overall, the food here is, I think, better than Baltimore. And I’m a foodie, so —

TL: Louisville’s a good foodie city.

PS: It’s a real good foodie city, and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the food.

TL: Then let me ask this: I was looking over your Twitter profile and you had a post recently about coffee shops here in the city. Have you tried any that people recommend?

PS: Yes. I’ve tried Quills, of course, Heine [Bros]. I’ve tried…Sunes..?

TL: Sunergos?

PS: That’s it. There’s one that’s on Baxter and Bardstown called Haraz, I think? The owners are of Yemen descent, and that’s on my list. I happened to drive past it, and I wasn’t aware of it. Right at the corner, where Grinstead comes in.

I can’t wait for the farmer’s markets, too. They’re my favorite things.

TL: I also know that you’re an avid reader. What books have you been reading lately?

PS: So I’ve got two. One is actually something I bought before I left Baltimore on Edgar Allen Poe. It really kind of talks about the misunderstanding of [him]. He was viewed as a tragic alcoholic, who wrote this horror. He actually had a pretty OK life until late, and died in Baltimore.

The other is called “Pineapple Street.” It’s kind of summer reading, so nothing serious right now.

TL: It’s more for pleasure, it sounds like. 

PS: Yea, just kind of reading and having a cup of tea. I generally have stuff that takes me out [of the house] — particularly now because I’m trying to meet as many people as possible. I’m a people person, so it’s an easy thing to do. And I’ll cook. On the weekends my husband and I and our dogs cook and go on walks learning the city.

I had not been to Nulu. I went to this great plant store to pick up some plants, So I’m finding new places to explore.

TL: As someone who grew up here I enjoy hearing that — there are so many things to discover. Do you have any Derby plans?

PS: Yep! Gonna go to Oaks as well as the Derby.

TL: Place any bets?

PS: Of course!

TL: As you should.

PS: I actually watched a Derby documentary recently: 7 Days Out. It’s about the 7 days preceding one-of-a-kind events, more of a behind-the-scenes. I didn’t know that the jockeys don’t show up until two to three days before the race. They want the horse to be as calm as possible, totally zen.

I saw one documentary by Remington Smith, so I’m trying to find Derby documentaries to watch. That one was interesting in terms of watching people come to town to work for just that day, every year.

TL: It was pretty eye-opening to see the behind-the-scenes.

PS: It’s a world-class event that happens every year. The oldest continuous sporting event in the United States, and it happens here.

TL: You have a prolific business background coming here. Can you talk about using that in terms of managing U of L as a brand and it’s administration?

PS: I’m used to running organizations with lots of people– it’s something I enjoy doing. It’s also about priorities.

We have a strategic plan but we also have culture, which is [part of] priorities too. I think that my business background has really brought me experience and expertise around making a change in large complex organizations in a pretty systematic collaborative way where we have to understand culture.

You don’t hear people talk about that word — culture — on a college campus. You hear it in business all the time. To me its a real contrast, because it all starts with culture: What kind of culture do we have as a campus? What kinds of values do we have? How do we treat each other, make change, and do what we want in terms of sharing priorities to be able to do it?

Ultimately, do we want to do hard things?

TL: Can you talk about what you’ve noticed, as an outsider looking in, that makes up U of L’s culture? 

PS: It’s a highly decentralized campus, more than I’ve ever experienced before. Whenever I say this in the listening sessions, people nod.

We have certain things that are university-wide like advising, IT; things that sweep across campus and need that level of university-wide engagement in a programmatic way. Those are some of the things that I’m going to have conversations around; how we manage research, student success, etc.

We do really well at a lot of things, but investing in it, and being able to do it across campus on a more systematic level I think will yield more results across the entire campus. That’s what I’m looking to learn more about.

TL: U of L has a priority in promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in a college setting. Can you talk a bit about its relevancy, or in your career at Towson?

PS: DEI has a lot of components to it. One is social justice.

Second is the fact that we have students, faculty, and staff that come on campus and face challenges because of their identity or demographic. They have to expend energy and thought that others don’t because of their identity. We are all obliged to remove that so we can all thrive inclusively. The point is that everyone reaches their fullest potential inclusively; to do things that others can’t because of your identity is a lack of equity.

The third is that you’re better prepared to lead a global society. You know how to work with a variety of demographics and engender their success– that’s a lifelong skill that is highly valued. To have our students become experts so they can speak to it would make us more competitive.

I came here from Maryland, which became a majority-minority state in 2020. As we’re looking at changing demographics in the country –to be able to have a campus that supports diversity, inclusion, and equity– means we will be in the consideration set of greater students, faculty, and staff. People will want to come live here and work here, and that’s what I want to be able to do.

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

Photo Courtesy // Matt Stone, The Courier Journal //