Major universities have always recognized the importance of senior professors to the culture of their institutions. It is these individuals who establish the nature of a university, its customs, expectations, vision, and ideas. At the University of Kentucky, it is our tradition to appoint our most distinguished senior faculty members to positions as endowed professors or chairs.
These are interesting folks. In addition to their scholarship, they are multifaceted individuals with a broad range of interests. It concerned me for years that UK had no mechanism to bring these individuals together where they might create a “critical mass” of intellect. We were unable to ‘harvest’ their collective wisdom or benefit from their variety of experiences. This concern deepened with the advent of House Bill 1 which created the Research Challenge Trust Fund, accelerating the creation of endowed professorships and chairs. UK went from having a handful of endowed positions to having over two hundred. Yet no venue emerged to integrate this important intellectual asset.
It became apparent that if something were to happen to create this venue, it required some action. In winter of 2009, I met with Provost Subbaswamy who agreed that convening the endowed professors and chairs was a good notion, it had been on his agenda but with other pressing issues he just hadn’t had time to get to it. We worked together to identify an organizing committee that represented multiple colleges across campus. Members included Professors Janice Almasi, Ron Formisano, Jim Geddes, Ibrahim Jawahir, Sam Matheny, Wallis Miller, Charlotte Peterson, Jeremy Popkin, Mike Reid, Deanna Sellnow, Ginny Sprang, Mark Summers, Ken Troske, Ernie Yanarella, and myself.
This group met in early March. We identified three objectives for the proposed organization. First, we wanted the endowed professors and chairs to become better acquainted in order to advance and enrich the intellectual life on campus. Second, we recognized our responsibility to help the university create more endowed professorships and chairs. Third, we thought senior faculty might function as ‘wise persons’ to help with major issues of education, research, and engagement at UK.
To address these objectives, the organizing committee split into three self-directed working groups. The committee and working groups labored through the spring and summer to formulate plans for a formal organization. Recommendations in hand, we scheduled a full meeting of all endowed professors and chairs in September, 2009.
That first meeting was quite eventful. We heard from both President Todd and Provost Subbaswamy and we adopted a leadership structure for our organization. I was elected founding Secretary and was charged with selecting a Steering Committee of seven colleagues from various colleges to serve the needs of the University, faculty, administration, staff and students. The name, ‘University of Kentucky Council of Endowed Professors and Chairs’ was adopted and we approved a series of initiatives proposed by the working groups. These included the creation of a Council website and updating of our member list serve to enhance communication. We agreed to collect and house member publications in the Boone Center library. To promote member interactions, we established a daily lunch table and a monthly reception at the Boone Center. Finally, a commemorative portrait was taken. That first image now graces the Member List page of this website.
Much has occurred in the ensuing months. The Boone Center library now contains a burgeoning collection of books and treatises that reflect the scholarship of our members. Council members meet regularly for lunch at the Center and attend First Friday receptions with their best and brightest trainees in tow. Our members are working with the Office of Undergraduate Affairs to help recruit high-level students to the university. Council members have also traveled with the President to address state legislators about the crucial importance of the Research Challenge Trust Fund. With support of the Provost’s Office, our website is up and running, we have a comprehensive list of endowed professors and chairs at UK, and we communicate regularly with our members about Council activities.
With the Council in place and its momentum firmly established, I stepped down as Founding Secretary in March, 2010. However, I remain closely involved with the Council and its activities and I am committed to its ongoing success.
F. Douglas Scutchfield, MD
Peter P. Bosomworth Professor of Health Services Research
Founding Secretary, UK Council of Endowed Professors and Chairs