‘Obsessed:’ UK Board votes to eliminate university senate, overhaul shared governance

Published 12:53 pm Friday, June 14, 2024

LEXINGTON — Yes, University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto is obsessed. He said so Friday morning before the UK Board of Trustees voted nearly unanimously to overhaul the university’s current shared governance structure.

Effective immediately, the University Senate has been eliminated, and will be replaced by a faculty senate with less power over curriculum decisions.

The move has drawn sharp criticism as a power grab by Capilouto, who said there is a notion that he is “obsessed.”

“To be sure, you’re right; I am obsessed,” he said. “I’m obsessed with Kentucky and our future. I believe that for Kentucky to grow, this community must grow. This means more students and more graduates who are even more prepared, not simply for the first job, but for a career of change and challenges.”

The now-defunct University Senate held a symbolic no confidence vote in protest. Previously, the university senate made policy decisions, but now, the new faculty senate will be relegated to a strictly advisory role.

Why is UK changing its shared governance structures?

Late 2023, the Board of Trustees charged President Capilouto to do more, through five goals:

  • more educated Kentuckians;
  • more career readiness;
  • more partnerships;
  • more employee recruitment and retention; and
  • more responsiveness.

Capilouto said achieving these goals means ensuring the UK Core general education courses keep up with a changing workforce and creating streamlined procedures that allow the university to accelerate its progress and growth.

The previous shared governance structure got in the way, he said. During an April meeting, Capilouto shared that in his conversations with staff and students, they often felt excluded from decision making if they disagreed with faculty.

On Friday, Trustee Hubie Ballard, associate professor in the College of Medicine, echoed Capilouto’s comments.

“Many faculty want to see these changes made as well,” Ballard said. “They recognize that our processes move too slowly, in terms of approvals and subject matter experts being able to make curriculum decisions efficiently.”

The Student Government Association and the Staff Senate also endorsed the proposal. They will have a seat at the table in the new shared governance structure as part of the President’s Council.

The 12-member President’s Council will include four students, four faculty and four staff, most of which the President directly chooses.

The new, 22-member Faculty Senate Executive Committee will be consulted about “relevant” matters. These may include curriculum, academic degree program reviews, approvals and closures, attendance and absence policies and general education requirements. But its input will be a recommendation, not a requirement.


However, not everyone is a fan of the changes.

Trustee Dr. Hollie Swanson, a professor in the College of Medicine, was the sole no vote Friday. She criticized her fellow trustees as basing their decisions on blind faith in Capilouto.

“As an educator, I still believe that educational decisions should be made by those closest to the classroom,” Swanson said. “But what about the rest of you? How did you arrive at your decision? Is your decision based only on trust? As a trained scholar, I make my decisions based on data.”

Swanson said the only data shared with the board came from a single report not available to the board. Due to an ongoing open records request, the report in question may be available Monday, one business day after the vote.

“Does this not give you pause?” Swanson asked. ” … Institutional history of higher education tells us that without a strong faculty voice, educational policy will return to the dark, smoke-filled rooms of a few, powerful men.”

Capilouto addressed the speed of the change, citing a quickly changing world requiring constant adaptations to learning.

“This is not a crisis or emergency, but I hope we all feel a sense of urgency,” he said. “Because of what this board directed us to do years ago, we don’t face the calamities that you see other institutions of higher education facing — no budget cuts, no program closures. We are investing in our future.”