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Campus Community,

We continue to monitor and respond to many legislative proposals during this year’s session of the General Assembly. We have much more work to do, ideas to share and thoughtful discussions to have about many of these proposals, both on campus and with our partners in Frankfort. 

In all these conversations, we are guided by our strategic plan — The UK-PURPOSE — which sets forward principles for how we will advance Kentucky. During this legislative session, I have reflected often on the principle of “Bringing Together Many People, One Community.” 

It speaks to the aspiration we have to build a community where everyone feels as though they belong as we pursue our mission to advance this state in everything that we do.

To that end, two bills currently proposed regarding diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts are deeply concerning. Additionally, we are monitoring a bill on faculty employment, commonly referred to as the “tenure bill,” that I fear sends a signal we are not committed to being a campus that welcomes differing perspectives and supports the quest for discovery wherever it leads.

We don’t speak as an institution on public policy unless the issues will impact our entire community in potentially significant ways. This is one of those moments. 

As the University of Kentucky’s president, let me be clear: I am opposed to the legislation regarding both DEI and tenure. I have voiced my stance in a manner that I hope is respectful and thoughtful. I will continue to do so. 

Our lawmakers support what we do for Kentucky. They have voted for increased investments in our work. They believe our success is essential to the state’s future. And they want to be our partners for progress.

Across this campus, staff and faculty work to support students of color and from underrepresented backgrounds. We should value and support that work, not diminish it. Clearly, our policymakers believe in these efforts. The funding formula they have adopted measures progress on, among other things, our success in enrolling and graduating students from underrepresented backgrounds.

The truth is that our world and our state are changing. We are growing more diverse. Indeed, we must, if our state is to grow economically. We should embrace that change and harness the opportunities it presents, not shrink from it.

The faculty employment bill does not suggest altering or abolishing tenure. In fact, many of the policies contemplated are already in place at UK and are adhered to more strictly than what is proposed.

Yet, among so many, the proposal raises questions about our commitment to tenure as a critical tool and symbol. It’s the idea that a university is a place that safeguards the unfettered pursuit by all our faculty — tenured or not — of discovery and learning, no matter how uncomfortable the questions are or where they take us. 

This pursuit is an honor we have as members of an academic community. And it is a responsibility we bear as Kentucky’s greatest hope for progress.

The journey for discovery and the exploration for answers take place in innumerable spaces and places at our institution. On the same campus, within yards of each other, we are mapping the genome of both cancerous tumors and the oak tree to save lives and a signature industry. 

This freedom to explore and ask questions of anyone or anything — without fear of reprisal — is essential to who we are. We debate questions of politics and religion, approaches to business and finance and discomfiting ideas espoused in literature and drama. We help train students to compete for jobs. But we also prepare them for lives of meaning and purpose, by equipping them to think critically and act morally.

Tenure is fundamental to all of this. It is how we recruit and retain the scholars, who conduct research and ignite the passions of our students, so vital to our efforts to advance this state. We shouldn’t plant seeds of doubt regarding our commitment to these values. 

Although I disagree with these proposals, I recognize that the concerns being raised are sincerely considered by policymakers who believe in what we do for Kentucky. 

The proposals reflect questions about whether we are truly committed to differing perspectives and ideas. There are doubts about how welcome we are to divergent opinions, regardless of ideology or religion, creed or background. There are questions about whether we teach and instruct in ways that promote diverse ideas rather than proselytize in furtherance of narrow and rigid orthodoxies of thought.

I don’t believe that’s the norm on our campus. But as a learning community and a public institution, we must always acknowledge that we can improve by listening and responding. We will do that, too. 

Let’s not extinguish the thirst for knowledge because certain questions aren’t allowed because they are uncomfortable or challenging.

Let’s not stop in our efforts to bring to our campus the best and brightest because they are different, don’t feel they belong or perceive that only certain questions and thoughts are permitted because they are too conservative or too liberal, because they are people of faith or who have no faith at all.

Our state needs us to do more — enroll and graduate more students, treat and heal more patients and work and serve in more communities. We bear the name Kentucky, not by accident, but as purposeful testimony to who and what we are for this state. I am confident that staying focused on our mission — now more than ever — will successfully guide us far into the future, as well.

Eli Capilouto