Monday, February 14, 2011

The Prez/Athletic-Director/Trustees Cabal

Amid great fanfare accruing to his determination to turn the University of Kentucky into “top-20” status –Harvard on I-75 – Dr. Lee Todd became its president some ten years ago. The method: paying the “brightest brains in the land” to join the faculty/administration, even directly violating both the Kentucky Constitution and Kentucky statutes by conferring marriage-benefits to members of same-sex unions, whether homosexual or heterosexual, to bring it off.

UK has some strong colleges/departments and some not so strong, like most similar institutions. Buildings have been erected and the physical plant perhaps improved. Overall, UK has probably progressed over the ten years though no one can say to what extent but certainly to nowhere near the “top-20” mark.

A strange thing didn’t happen on the way to “top-20” status because it was already in place, namely, that UK perseveres as a “jock school.” The Athletic Department sits astride the university like an anteater on the prowl, ready to snap up any dollar within tongue-distance or claw anything threatening its existence.

Virtually since the beginning of his tenure, Todd has been obsessed with the commercial sports angle (Athletic Department), a smoke-&-mirrors part of the university, with the president as CEO and the athletic director as top-gofer serving at the pleasure of the boss within contractual bounds, including every conceivable loophole covering the derrieres of both operators.

Last year, Todd announced his leaving this June, stranding Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart until 2016 with a salary of only $475,000 annually plus gobs of “incentives” – two cars, club memberships, performance bonuses (mostly for just breathing consistently), payoffs when teams merely qualify for tournaments or go to bowl games, and appearing in the media, the latter worth $100,000 annually when Barnhart was hired in 2002, though it took six months for a Todd/Barnhart contract to be completed.

Counting everything except media stuff, Barnhart was good for a minimum of $605,000 in 2010…not near enough, so lame-duck Todd raised his salary recently to $600,000 (26% increase) and extended his contract through 2019. Add the sugar-sticks and Barnhart should be looking at maybe $800,000 this year (not counting media-participation).

One of Barnhart’s more notable achievements was the hiring and firing two years later of a basketball coach who sued successfully and collected $3 million from Barnhart’s bailiwick. He was “just not the right fit,” as Barnhart put it, strangely claiming the coach never signed a contract. After two years? A $125,000 raise for this incompetence?

Barnhart’s windfall just about equals the boondoggle the board of trustees (also called crony-crew) awarded Todd last September, a sort of going away present – $825,138 added to his base salary of $354,000 for the last two years, a total suck-up of $1,533,138, about a 100% raise. The faculty, with no significant raises for years, could “just eat cake.” In impolite circles, this is called highway-robbery, concerning the taxpayers.

Then-president of Vanderbilt, Gordon Gee tired of his giant anteater in 2003 and simply excised the Athletics Department and the athletics-director post, placing sports-activity in more appropriate areas of the university. He saw that athletes were essentially separated from anything other than sports, the antithesis of the term “student-athlete.”

According to, Vanderbilt, also in the highly competitive Southeastern Conference, is the 43rd best university in the world. Gee meant for the school to maintain “top-20” status and for “student athlete” to mean something. Rather than folding athletically, as many thought it would, Vandy has prospered, not that it wins the conference or has the greatest records, but it has turned out some fine athletes since 2003 and owns a phenomenal athlete-graduation rate.

Todd had the perfect opportunity to point UK in the Vandy direction and had a great shot at it when he came since the “brightest in the land” would have given their eye-teeth to teach here. He didn’t do it. He and Barnhart have gotten well financially but the chance to drive toward “top-20” status has been squandered.

The campus-segregated basketball team has a dormitory of its own, with a glitzy new replacement on the way…gotta keep those guys FOCUSED, the latest buzz-word in sports-world. Academics are so distracting…but money talks.

And so it goes.
Jim Clark

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