University of Louisville Peacock: The search for the next president

Aug 3, 2016 at 10:50 am
University of Louisville Peacock: The search for the next president

The upcoming selection of a new president for UofL reminds me of when George W. Bush’s eight years were up: America wanted the exact opposite of what it had. The search criteria for finding the next university president is pretty simple: likable, trustworthy, intellectual, a proven educator, inclusive, transparent … pretty much the opposite of the recently dismissed president.

Maybe the trustees should pick someone more like the first UofL president, Samuel Smith Nicholas, a Court of Appeals judge and noted essayist who later turned down a nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Or maybe like Philip G. Davidson Jr., UofL president from 1951 to 1968, during which time the university became the first historically white Southern university to have a black faculty member, according to his 2000 obituary in The Washington Post. The university also enrolled its first black students that year, and it more than tripled its annual budget and began its first doctoral programs, his obituary said.

Don’t be mistaken, it is not going to be an easy job. He or she will inherit an office in disrepair (that’s the last W. Bush analogy, I promise). The next UofL president can’t just be an administrator, but he or she must also repair the fractured trust with faculty, students and Louisville community. The new president will have to be an ambassador for the university — nationally, internationally, with donors and to the city that supports it.

The Board of Trustees has an opportunity to find the perfect successor: someone who will restore the community’s faith in the school, and someone who will lead, inspire and transform the institution. This is the opportunity to set UofL on a path for the next generation and craft the future of Kentucky higher education in the vision that we choose.

So what is that future? Who can take this bruised, battered bird and rediscover its inner-peacock.

In the short-term, the new president will need to address the cost to students, including tuition that increases year-after-year, and the cost of living. The new president must find an alternative source of revenue, instead of levying it from those who can least afford it. The new president also needs to address structural problems that result in further burdening students who require remedial courses.

He or she will need to reconsider the use — and abuse — of adjunct professors. Adjunct professors provide immense value, as many are professionals from real-world industries who have experience and expertise. But when adjuncts are required to work full-time hours without the pay or benefits of a full-time professor, that is abuse. In essence, they are called adjuncts for a reason: they are supposed to be supplementary educators, not professors. And if students are paying full tuition, shouldn’t they get a full-time professor?

In the long-term, the new president will need to chart the university’s future involvement in research and development, its place in the community, and how it will engage students from around the world. Do we want to continue to develop our medical and engineering programs? What else? Who will we attract and what will they create? What will they do for the community? And what will they do for the world?

Louisville is a progressive, diverse city still suffering from segregated neighborhoods. It is home to multiple industries of international scope and attractions that bring in visitors from around the world. What are the next 20, 30 and 50 years of challenges that we will face?

The Board of Trustees needs to identify great problems, recognize them as opportunities and set out to solve them. They need to think radical to be radical. They need to look at the leaders of the Speed Museum, Ghislain d’Humières, and the Louisville Orchestra, Teddy Abrams — two transformative leaders who are re-energizing their organizations. If the board is clear in its vision and transparent in its process, it can take an enormous chance and be radical. The city will support bold action if it reflects leadership.