Investing in our people

Published 3:32 pm Thursday, June 24, 2021

By Eli Capilouto

President, University of Kentucky

Emerging from a year unlike any other in our history, we remain firmly focused on the mission we were created for:

Advancing Kentucky.

This past year, we were challenged, in new and daunting ways, to continue meeting our obligations. I am deeply proud to say that your university – the University of, for and with Kentucky – met the moment and we are now poised to do even more.

It is that record of service and commitment that gives me such confidence and hope that we will find new and exciting ways to redefine and expand upon what it means to be Kentucky’s university in the months and years ahead.

The institution’s budget for FY 2021-22 underscores that commitment – to our state, to the people on our campus who make our work possible and to the students who place their trust in us and in whom we are counting on to make a brighter future possible for Kentucky.

I have hope — and remain so optimistic — because I have seen firsthand what we can do.

Consider but one example among countless of what we have done this past year together.

As of this date, more than 250,000 doses of life-saving vaccines – injections of healing and hope – have been provided to our community and to people throughout the Commonwealth. At a makeshift clinic constructed at Kroger Field, we vaccinated health care providers, teachers and school employees, first responders and those with underlying health conditions with precision, speed, care and efficiency.

The endeavor represented what we so distinctively bring to our state – the power of partnership. Across disciplines and departments, health care workers, emergency operations officials and police officers, athletics personnel, and students, faculty and employees volunteered to construct and staff a clinic.

Our vaccination efforts were, perhaps, the most visible example among so many of what this university community did over the past 15 months as we grappled with a global pandemic that forced all of us to find new ways to meet existing responsibilities and overcome obstacles – in classrooms and operating theaters, in extension offices and research labs, and in counties and communities across Kentucky that depend on what we do every day.

At the same time, we launched an essential and exciting effort that will be a primary focus for us for many years to come around creating a more diverse, equitable and inclusive community. The impact of historic and systemic racism and bias affects our community as it does every community in our state and country.

That is our reality, but it doesn’t have to limit our aspirations to be a community of belonging and acceptance for everyone. Even as we launched clinical trials to test vaccines for COVID-19, we also started investing what will be millions of dollars in seeking solutions for inequities that exist in health care and education, justice and economics.

We are examining what we do, in every facet of campus life – from our physical spaces to our professional development and employment opportunities – to determine how we can make continual, substantive progress in meeting our aspirations as a community.

We have made much progress.

But there is still so much to do.

In the nearly $5.1 billion university budget for this coming year, we make purposeful investments in our people that will help us advance our missions of education, research, service and care; missions that are critical to advancing our state. Our growth as an institution continues to be fueled, in large measure, by incredible advancements we continue to make as a health care and research enterprise – one squarely focused on addressing and solving some of our state’s most intractable challenges.

To sustain that growth, as well as advancing our record-setting efforts to help even more students be successful, we must continue investing in our people: the students, faculty and staff who are called to make this institution the bright light of hope and progress that it is for Kentucky. To that end, this budget:

• Will hold tuition increases to 1 percent; the four-year average of annual tuition increases is now 1.7 percent, below the rate of inflation. We are also taking steps to increase stipends for our graduate students who contribute so much to our academic, research and health missions.

• Will challenge our colleges to even more aggressively meet our aspirations to grow and help students succeed by investing $13.7 million in revenues based on their performance in meeting certain goals aligned with our most important priorities – educating and graduating more students, continuing to grow our research as well as creating and sustaining more diversity among our faculty ranks.

• Will increase the minimum hourly rate for regular employees at the University of Kentucky from $12.50 to $13.75 on July 1 and then to $15 beginning January 1, 2022.

• Will create new paid leave for staff employees to welcome a new child or care for an ill parent.

• Will include a 2 percent merit increase, beginning January 1, 2022. And we will provide a one-time $1,000 payment for all regular faculty and staff (excluding UKHC which operates under a separate compensation plan). These payments recognize the outstanding efforts and sacrifices our people have made over the past year. I’m pleased that this represents the 9th pay increase for our employees during the last 11 years.

• Will, as promised, restore the full employer retirement contribution rate of 10 percent on July 1.

This was not an easy budget to craft. They never are. During this time, we invested tens of millions of dollars to ensure the health, safety and well-being of our community, without knowing how much we would recoup in assistance from our partners the federal and state governments. Even with the vital assistance we have received, balancing this budget – during a time of such uncertainty – has been particularly difficult.

We know, too, that in the coming years new challenges already await – a so-called demographic cliff in which the number of potential students is projected to decline; understandable anxiety among families about what a college education and experience looks like as we emerge from a pandemic that upended some of our most basic assumptions about life; and skepticism from many quarters about the value of what we do and how we do it.

And all of this swirl of challenges resides in a world that seems so rife with conflict and contentiousness. We move and live among places and spaces, in the midst of people and communities, where division and divisiveness are the norms and a sense of comity and consensus the exception.

We live in that world, to be sure. But we have a particular responsibility to do what we can to help shape it – through the education we offer, the research and care we provide and the service we render. To that mission, we have a particular calling – to advance a state we were created to serve more than 156 years ago. In advancing Kentucky, we do our part to advance the world.

This past year, in so many ways, challenged how we do that. We met that moment, creating solutions to problems none of us could have imagined or anticipated.

That tells me we will be ready to meet whatever lies ahead. I remain excited for our future and what we can — and will — do together.