Dr. Ricky Jones For President

[Will UofL Professor Dr. Ricky L. Jones become UofL’s next president? Dr. Jones and LEO Executive Editor Aaron Yarmuth make a case for why he won’t, but why he should be.]

It’s easy to discount Dr. Ricky Jones’ candidacy to become the next president of the University of Louisville. He doesn’t have experience running a public institution, especially one the size of UofL. He doesn’t have the business or economics background.

He’s been called “outspoken” and “polarizing.”

But, if Dr. Jones isn’t selected to become the next president of UofL, his failed bid will have nothing to do with what he lacks on his resume. It will be the failure of the Board of Trustees, for failing to realize why he is right for the job.

Outspoken? Damn right he’s outspoken. That’s what leaders do — they speak out, speak truth to power and speak with clarity, conviction and vision.

No business or economics background? Maybe not the economics background that we are accustomed to seeing. But listen to Dr. Jones’ talk about the economics of poor, underserved communities, minority communities. Listen to what he has to say about the economics of being a student in today’s world.

Dr. Jones’ economics expertise is not in reinforcing the status quo — feeding the wealthy and entitled with more access, more notoriety and more power. And that’s good: It is the status quo that has failed the university. The current system rewards the already successful with more wealth and does so at the expense of hardworking, underpaid professors, adjunct teachers and students carrying more debts that books.

Those aren’t gaps on Ricky Jones’ resume — those are accolades.

His candidacy should force the Board of Trustees — and all of us — to look at the problems in new ways. Challenge old paradigms and old structures with new directions. Take risks, be bold… and be different.

Instead of hiring a president  to grow the endowment or UofL Foundation, why not hire a president who grows the faculty, reducing the dependence on adjunct teachers?

Why not reward a president for lowering tuition rates, increasing admissions and graduating students on time?

Dr. Jones is a professor, not an investor. He’s a scholar, not a businessman. He was the first person in his family to graduate high school, and then he earned his Ph.D. by the time he was 28. He’s a self-made success, and someone who understands the lives of the students he wants to lead.

Finally, let’s also address the obvious: Ricky Jones being a nonwhite man is a reason he should be chosen — and the main reason he won’t be chosen. When a white man is outspoken, he is lauded as a leader. When a black man is outspoken, he’s labeled an angry black man.

If we are too uncomfortable to acknowledge that hard truth, then we aren’t seeing Dr. Jones’ impressive resume. Instead, all we see is a black man seeking attention. If all we hear from Dr. Jones is anger, then we’re not listening to what the professor is telling us.

Dr. Jones is angry, as he should be… Most important, he’s passionate about the things that matter: his students; making sure black and brown kids have the same opportunities that I did; ensuring students graduate from UofL with something of value, and not a lifetime of debt.

Want UofL to stand out from other schools?

Including UofL, the Atlantic Coast Conference’s 15 public and private universities are led by white people, 13 of them men.

Want to inspire the next generation of Louisville kids to go to their hometown college? Hire a leader who reflects the diverse population of this city, as well as the future.

Want a leader? Hire an outspoken black man who isn’t afraid of a trustee or a governor.

Dr. Jones’ application should jump out of the pile. Want proof? Professor Jones is teaching us right now. Whether he becomes president or not, his candidacy is forcing us to have uncomfortable conversations about race, inequality, profits over students and the future of the university.

“Yeah, but —” …?

As one reader’s letter to Courier Journal said of Ricky Jones: “He is the most racist person I have ever read … He needs to work harder at educating and promoting racial harmony than racial discord.”

Nah, we need to work harder at identifying leaders when we see them. We need to work harder at seeing past the man’s skin color.

Dr. Jones is not the simple caricature many make him out to be. He’s a strong, passionate, uncompromising voice. He’s what leaders are made of.

Go ahead, disregard Ricky Jones, but doing so says more about you than it does him.