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New U of L president hopes her term is full of ‘stability’ and ‘transformation’

A professional headshot of a woman in a red and black jacket, with a cardinal pin.
Tom Fougerousse
University of Louisville
Kim Schatzel, the 19th president of the University of Louisville.

Kim Schatzel took the helm as the University of Louisville’s 19th president this month. Schatzel is the former president of Towson University in Maryland. Before entering academia, she was a business executive in the technology and manufacturing sectors.

She takes over for former presidentNeeli Bendapudi, who many in the U of L community described as a source of stability after a string of scandals under her predecessor, James Ramsey.

Schatzel sat down with LPM News during her first week on the job to talk about her goals and the challenges facing higher education.

Below is a Q&A based on that interview. Questions and responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.

LPM: So this is your first week on the job. How are you spending your time?

Schatzel: I'm spending this time learning as much as I can about Kentucky, and Louisville and the University of Louisville. I said I was going to do a listening session for about 30 to 60 days. … I just want to get to meet as many people as possible, you know: students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors, community and business leaders.

LPM: What drew you to U of L from your last position as president of Towson University in Maryland?

Schatzel: In all honesty, I wasn't looking to move. But I had an individual that reached out to me and said, ‘You really have to look at this position, it's a perfect fit for you.’ So I did. … I knew about the reputation and the excellence of U of L. But what really struck me was the fact that it's an R1 institution, which is high research activity, but it also has the classification from Carnegie as community-engaged. And there's less than 70 universities nationally that have that combination. And that really resonated with me. So the excellence of the university, the commitment to be an anchor institution for Louisville and for the commonwealth — that really spoke to me.

LPM: Tuition has risen consistently at U of L over the last two decades, substantially outpacing inflation. Are you concerned that this trajectory is making college unaffordable for some students?

Schatzel: Accessibility and affordability is critical for universities to pay attention to so that we can be able to create an accessible pathway to higher education. So it's something that we always make as a priority. I can tell you our graduates have the second-lowest debt when they graduate in the state, which is something that we're really proud of. … I haven't looked at all the numbers. … But we're deeply committed to being an accessible, affordable institution … balanced with, of course, the quality of the education that we need to be able to provide and the excellence of the assets, as well as the faculty. You know, I take a look at the fact that everything that we do, every dime that we spend, either comes out of the pockets of our students or from the citizens of the commonwealth. So we have to be good fiduciaries of how we are efficient, and I look forward to working with everybody on that.

LPM: While we're talking finances, I know there are concerns from faculty members that compensation has not kept up with the cost of living. Pay was a point of contention between the faculty and staff and your predecessor, Neeli Bendapudi. How will you address the compensation issue? 

Schatzel: I know that a compensation study that covers both faculty and staff was launched over a year ago. … It's a question that I've been asked around campus is where we are on that. So it's a priority for me to be able to learn more about that very shortly in the next 30 or 60 days and be able to talk to the community about it.

I know there's some reporting that's going to be going back to the faculty senate and the staff senate, about the work that's been done. So I'm going to make sure that we're very transparent about the data, as well as the process. And then, I'm a firm believer in shared governance, and to be able to include the faculty and the staff to be able to take a look at that data and determine next steps is something I'm really looking forward to. We want to attract, retain and develop the absolute best faculty and staff that we can. We're a national institution, and we need to be able to be highly competitive to do that.

LPM: The past few years have been marked with calls for racial equity and inclusion across many institutions and universities, including U of L. What are some things that U of L can do to make this institution more inclusive?

Schatzel: It's a priority of mine, and it was a priority of the previous administration. … It was a priority of mine when I was at Towson University. It was also one of the reasons I was attracted to this position was that commitment [to diversity, equity and inclusion]. One area that I want to really pay a lot of attention to is our six-year graduation rate, which is basically a measure of student success.

We have about a little over a 60% six-year graduation rate. We have the opportunity to increase that. The university I came from was 72%. We had the second-highest six-year graduation rate in the state of Maryland. But more importantly, we did not have a completion gap. Our Pell-eligible Latinx and Black students graduated at the same rate as the overall population. And that's a goal that I have to be able to achieve here at U of L. And if you take a look at diversity, equity and inclusion and take a look at what is the absolute most important outcome — having our students graduate at exactly the same rate, so that we have inclusive success for our students — to me, that's everything.

LPM: What do you think made that possible at Towson?

Schatzel: It's many things. There's lots of different efforts. And if it was one single silver bullet, everybody would do it. And I can tell you it wasn't. I often describe it as “high tech and high touch.” We used predictive analytics, for example, when I was there. We could take a look at the fact that if a student didn't do well in a certain class, that would be a predictor of the fact that later on down the road, that they would have struggles to be able to complete that class effectively and continue with their major. So we would be able to set them up for different tutoring and advising to be able to support them with that. So that's kind of the “high tech” side. The “high touch” side that we had was actually making available tutoring services and advising services that were pretty intrusive. So if somebody was struggling in terms of their coursework, dropping classes or not performing as well, we could see that and we would be able to reach out to them. And we had some mandatory efforts to be able to have advising and tutoring. And the results were significant.

LPM: Are those things that are in place at U of L already?

Schatzel: U of L does a lot of those things. That's why I need to learn more to see whether we could coordinate better across the different divisions, or if in fact, there are resources to effectively do it.

LPM: The Kentucky General Assembly has significantly decreased funding for higher education in the last 15 years. And given the political leanings of this Legislature, it doesn't look likely to change anytime soon. How will U of L respond to what is essentially a new normal in terms of higher education funding?

Schatzel: Well, as you said, this is not a new trend. And this is actually a national trend. Twenty-five years ago, the vast majority of the funding for higher education came from the state. Now, it's a tuition-driven model. You know, I spent 20 years in business before I became an academic. I’m one of 2% of university presidents that have significant business experience at the C-Suite level. When I came into academics, that was actually a skill set and experience that became more attractive as that model converted to a tuition-driven model.

It is the new normal. And I think that, you know, the efficiencies that we have to have as a university — taking a look at utilities, procurement, things of that nature which are oftentimes commonplace in business, but are becoming more commonplace in higher ed — are important. We also need to take a look at priorities, in terms of really being intentional about where we want to be able to place resources so that we get the kind of return on investment with the priorities that are important, such as student success, such as research, such as accessibility.

LPM: There's quite a consensus on the words used to describe the tenures of the last two U of L presidents. I think for former President James Ramsey, it would be “turmoil.” And then Neeli Bendapudi came in, and she was really seen as this source of stability after that period — a lot of people use that word “stability” to describe her tenure. What words would you like people to use to describe your tenure as president?

Schatzel: “Transformational” and “stable.” The type of work that I want to accomplish will be transformational. That type of work takes three, four, five, six, seven years to complete. It doesn't happen overnight. And that's kind of the timeframe that I want to be able to have people start adjusting to, is the fact that, you know, in a year from now, we might not see big changes. But three years from now, suddenly we'll start turning around and go, “Boy, this is different.” And it'll be because of the fact of the work that we've put in place. You know, I spent seven years in my previous position. And I was fortunate to have a great team and great partners, so that we did implement transformational change. So I'm confident that we can do it at U of L. And I'm confident that we have partners in the community and across the commonwealth to be able to do that. And I'm committed to doing that type of change. And that's what the trustees want. You know, we're not going to move deck chairs around. We're going to do the kinds of things that take hard work, and effort and teamwork to get it accomplished.

LPM: Can you talk more specifically about what kinds of changes you would like to see in this “transformation”?

We want to expand the research enterprise more. We want to address student success and the six-year graduation rate. We want to be able to have a relationship with U of L Health, that I think has greater synergy between our Health Sciences Center, in terms of academics as well as research. So I think that's another area of opportunity. I take a look at the fact that, for example, just cybersecurity, the needs of cybersecurity nationally, as well as locally — we have tremendous assets and resources and talent here … taking a look at workforce development and business connections that we can be able to work on. Taking a look at the connection with Louisville where we can participate with the administration that's now in place to be able to advance our community in terms of health disparities, in terms of economic development.

We're positioned to be able to respond to the big challenges that both the city and the commonwealth are facing, and we want to partner on them.

Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.

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