Kentucky needs UK to accelerate its progress. UK needs rule changes to meet that challenge.

Republished from Kentucky Lantern


In a recent meeting with several employers from across the country who hire our graduates, I heard many of the same themes.

Our students are smart and capable. They are prepared. They have the technical skills necessary to do the job, working in what are often complex fields.

But in many cases, I was told in today’s environment, employers need more of what are often called soft skills – the ability to communicate and present, work in teams and navigate job expectations as well as challenging situations and personalities.

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It was timely and important feedback. Our Board of Trustees has directed me and our campus to work quickly and intentionally to accelerate our progress in advancing the state. How we prepare students for a growing workforce, and how we prepare more of them, is central to that effort. So, too, is how our institution can move quickly and responsively when the state asks us to do and be more. 

That’s why as part of our work to accelerate Kentucky’s progress, the Board also asked us to closely examine the rules and regulations that guide so much of our work. The rules can either position us for progress or stymie it.

Our Board knew how we would respond. We’ve asked more of our community over the last decade. And every time we have delivered. 

We are educating and graduating more students than ever before, extending service further across our state and world, healing more people with more complex illnesses and doing more research that directly addresses our state’s biggest and most important challenges.

But the needs are only growing. There are more economic opportunities than at any time since I’ve been here, but there’s also a lack of skilled workers, prepared for the 21st century jobs being recruited to Kentucky. We are extending hope and healing to more patients – treating more people than at any time in our hospitals and clinics – but health outcomes in our state still lag. Our research and service capacity must grow to address these issues as well. 

As I have talked to hundreds of people across our campus, I heard repeatedly the desire to be more involved, but the inability to do it under the current rules and governance structures.

Too often, the voices of students and staff, specifically, were discounted or not heard at all in our current governance processes and structures. And too many faculty feel hamstrung by cumbersome rules and byzantine processes. 

I can’t unhear what I’ve heard from our people. And we should be willing to examine what we do and how we can improve.

To be sure, on a campus, members of the community should debate and disagree. Dialogue – whether in support or opposition – almost always leads to better outcomes.

After all, this process of reform through revision isn’t about blaming anyone. It’s about empowering our people and optimizing our processes so we can be aligned with the state’s needs and priorities.

As one staff member told me, “it’s not about your class, it’s about your role.” It’s time that our rules and structures better reflect that. Everyone has something to offer – if given the chance.

That means adding more voices to the table and it means giving more authority to those closest to the decisions around issues like the composition of the curriculum. Faculty at the college level know best what’s happening in their fields and how to be more responsive to our state’s needs. 

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The revisions our Board of Trustees gave initial approval to last month clarify and streamline the rules, making authority and responsibilities easier to understand and approvals for new programs more manageable to negotiate.

The suggestion that somehow faculty tomorrow won’t be able to determine grading policies or the language on a course plan is simply inaccurate. Those kinds of basic functions that are part of how faculty manage the curriculum won’t change, nor will our commitment to critical concepts like academic freedom and the essential nature of tenure in that. 

Growing strategically to enroll, prepare and graduate more students for success in careers and life also is not, as some on these pages have suggested, antithetical to our values.

Those are our values. Change can be uncomfortable. That’s why it’s called growing pains. 

Kentucky, though, needs us now to accelerate our progress. And our Board – informed by what our campus has said in community conversations with hundreds of people – is working to reform the rules so we can do more on behalf of the state we were created to serve. That is our calling. It is a moment that I’m confident we will meet.

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