Shortly before he abruptly resigned last week as University of Pikeville president, James L. Hurley sat down for an in depth interview with Ed Lane, publisher of The Lane Report magazine, for the April issue’s centerpiece One-on-One feature, which explores major issues Kentucky faces in the public and private sector. Hurley gave no indication of any plans to leave his position during the late March interview. UPIKE announced the resignation Monday, providing no reason for the change. The Appalachian News-Express newspaper today reported that Hurley stated in an email to university staff regarding his resignation a desire to put his family first and “prioritize what matters most.” In his email dated April 6, the News-Express reported, Hurley recognized the members of the “UPike family,” thanked them for their role in his six years of service with the university, and said that he agreed to remain with the university “as a transitional consultant until the end of the year” and that former UPike President Gov. Paul Patton “will transition back into an interim role at the university” as president.
The following is the text of the April One-on-One feature in The Lane Report:
James L. Hurley was named president of the University of Pikeville in 2013 and is the first alumnus in the school’s history to lead his alma mater. Hurley earned his bachelors degree from UPIKE (then Pikeville College) in 1999 then went on to receive a master’s degree in Educational Leadership from Indiana University, a Rank I in Instructional Supervision from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate in Higher Education Leadership and Policy at Morehead State University. He spent 11 years in the public education system, serving as a principal, assistant principal, dean of students, teacher and athletic coach before returning to UPIKE in 2009 as executive vice president. In that role, he provided leadership in the administration of campus operations, program development, strategic initiatives, recruiting, financial aid and retention efforts. Hurley continues to be involved with students in the classroom, serving as professor of education and leadership at the university.
Ed Lane: The University of Pikeville (UPIKE), formerly Pikeville College, is a private liberal arts university founded in 1889 by the Presbyterian Church. You were selected as UPIKE’s 20th president in July 2013 and are the first alumnus to lead the university. What is UPIKE’s top mission?
James Hurley: It’s obviously very special to be the first alum to serve as president in our university’s 125-year history. Tina, my wife, who serves as first lady, is an alum as well. Tina and I are both from Appalachia, so it means a great deal to be able to lead the institution that we love so much and afforded us a better way of life. Certainly in this time of critical change in Appalachia, to be able to be part of the solution – instead of part of a problem – is always important.
UPIKE was founded in 1889 by the New York Presbyterian Church for the sole purpose of creating access and opportunity to the youth of the mountains. Obviously, over 125 years UPI KE’s mission has expanded. Today, UPIKE has students from 45 states and 25 countries, and has three campus partnerships in China. UPI KE has grown beyond the youth of the mountains, but its core mission remains unchanged; 70 percent of UPIKE’s students come from Central Appalachia.
EL: In 2009, you affiliated with UPIKE as vice president for enrollment and retention and special assistant to then-President Paul Patton. You were active in the process to convert Pikeville College to a university. What key issues had to be addressed to change UPIKE’s status?
JH: Some of the thought process behind moving from a college to a university really started with something that Paul Patton created, and that was a very robust Kentucky Community and Technical College System. Kentucky has a very successful community college system and most – but not all – high school graduates look at a “college” as community college, and they think of a university as being a four-year institution. That’s something that shouldn’t be looked upon negatively, because KCTCS, in my opinion, is one of the very best community colleges in the nation. With that mindset, we felt UPIKE had to create a clear distinction between being a college or a university. Coupled with the fact that UPIKE has one of only three medical schools in Kentucky and was considering adding additional professional programs, UPIKE was much more than a college; it was truly a university.
The decision methodology was very open and transparent. We sought input from alumni, community members, current students, faculty, staff and our board of trustees. All of the stakeholders of the institution also were involved in the naming process, which was very open. We had many meetings and an online forum. Our board of trustees ultimately decided upon the University of Pikeville. That’s when we created the UPIKE brand.
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EL: Did UPIKE have to go through an accreditation process?
JH: No. We contacted the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and submitted a letter from the chairman of the board and President Paul Patton, simply identifying the college as the University of Pikeville from this point forward and attaching board mandates where the resolution was passed by the trustees.
EL: How has enrollment at UPIKE increased?
JH: Six-plus years ago, when I was hired by Paul Patton as vice president, UPIKE had roughly 960 students. Today enrollment is a smidgen under 2,500. So it has dramatically increased. In terms of percentage, UPIKE has been the fastest-growing institution in Kentucky for five consecutive years and the fastest-growing institution in SACS in the Southern region. The Chronicle of Higher Education, a publication for U.S. colleges and universities, just identified UPI KE as the 20th-fastest-growing institution from 2002 to 2012. We estimate that UPIKE will rank somewhere between third- to fifth-fastest-growing U.S. institution in 2015.
EL: To what to do you attribute student enrollment growth at UPIKE?
JH: Population in certain parts of Appalachia has decreased, but on the flip side, in other areas of Appalachia the population has increased. UPIKE had to strategically rethink its boundaries. We started recruiting internationally; domestically we recruited students from more states instead of just recruiting from east Kentucky. We started really focusing on contiguous states that are in close proximity to the university.
EL: What are the major schools or colleges that comprise UPIKE?
JH: At UPIKE’s founding in 1889, the first college was the College of Arts and Sciences. UPIKE then established the Elliott School of Nursing in 1983. In 1997, it launched the Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine. Our next college was the College of Business, opened in 2013. In 2014, UPIKE announced the College of Optometry. In January 2015, it announced the Patton College of Education.
EL: The academic offerings appear to be strongly related to the economic needs in Eastern Kentucky. Is that UPIKE’s strategy?
JH: Absolutely. That was the whole premise behind creating separate colleges that have the autonomy to really go out and get things done. If you create a nimble atmosphere for deans, professors and faculty to go out and create change and opportunity, you have to give them the power to do so. Sometimes higher education, like some other organizations, is slow to change.
EL: Why did UPIKE decide to add optometry to its curriculum?
JH: When conducting a needs assessment, UPIKE has been working with a firm to help it create a strategic vision and plan through 2020 and then ultimately through 2025. A road map to address the needs of central Appalachia. And in doing so, we started with our state’s health index. Some of the “Kentucky uglies” (poor population metrics on health, education and income) – we’ll be very blunt – solely reside in east Kentucky. The University of Kentucky and University of Louisville – our state’s two research institutions – are great institutions, but they can only do so much to address major health issues. I am a proponent of research, and I applaud the Kentucky General Assembly for passing legislation and Gov. Steve Beshear signing the bill to authorize bonds for the development and construction of a new medical research facility at UK. We have to have relevant medical research in the commonwealth to address health issues and to improve the state’s economy. When UPIKE researched the need for optometrists, 25 percent of the counties in Kentucky didn’t have a practicing optometrist who resides in the county. That’s an issue. And when you look at the bigger picture, UPIKE is the first college of optometry in the states of Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana. So think about that huge unmet need the University of Pikeville will strategically be able to serve.
EL: Where do you stand on public-private partnership legislation?
JH: I’m very much a proponent of P3. It’s essential for the commonwealth to move forward. The public and private sectors have to work together to share in investment and in opportunities to really grow this commonwealth. (It did not pass in the state Senate.)
EL: How has UPIKE’s College of Osteopathic Medicine grown since it was founded 18 years ago?
JH: In 1997, the first class contained approximately 55 students. UPIKE is now the second-largest medical school in Kentucky. Sixty-two percent of our grads are practicing within a 90-mile radius of Pikeville, Ky. That’s phenomenal. UPIKE has produced now over 900 graduates in those years. Three years ago UPIKE commissioned a substantive change with the Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation (COCA); it increased the class size from 75 to 140 students. There are around 130-plus M.D. programs and roughly 40 D.O. programs nationally, and collectively UPIKE ranks among the top 10 in rural medicine. It also ranks second in the production of primary- care physicians. If you look at the very basics of the Affordable Care Act and even prior to that, more primary care doctors are needed, especially in rural areas. Over half of our doctors are practicing in rural areas.
EL: Since UPIKE is a Presbyterian university, it must arrange for private-sector equity investments and long-term financing for its new colleges and its educational facilities, as opposed to receiving financial aid from state government. What types of funding and financing does UPIKE use?
JH: UPIKE’s affiliation with the Presbyterian Church is very refined at this point. Over the last 25 years, UPI KE has experienced a sharp decrease in the support from the Presbyterian USA. But on the flip side of that, UPIKE has several Presbyterian churches that have been donors to the institution for 125 years. UPIKE understands and recognizes its Presbyterian roots, but it’s now more open and nondenominational.
EL: What are some examples of new construction or renovations of UPIKE facilities?
JH: In 2011, UPIKE opened a $40 million facility, the Coal Building, that is the new home of the expanded Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine. UPIKE just recently (re)acquired a building from the City of Pikeville – it was actually UPIKE’s first building (circa 1889) – to house the new Coleman College of Business. And most recently, construction began on a 108,000-s.f., $50 million facility called the Health Professions Building that will serve as the home of the new Kentucky College of Optometry along with the expanded Elliott School of Nursing.
EL: UPIKE has to have a certain amount of cash equity to build new facilities and start new colleges.
JH: To start a College of Optometry is very expensive. So UPIKE had to creatively combine resources. We just simply put cash into a reserve fund and let it build over the last three years so UPIKE could start the project. Also, we received an ARC grant from Gov. Steve Beshear and Congressman Hal Rogers of $1.5 million for two years. That helped fund the startup and allowed UPIKE to hire a dean, an associate dean, and adequate and appropriate staff to start developing the curriculum, recruiting students, navigating the accreditation process. Also, UPIKE received grants from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) and from other organizations and foundations, not only in Kentucky but across the country. Roughly $10 million in startup funds has been raised just to get the optometry program up and going.
EL: How does UPIKE’s medical college rank against UofL and UK as far as tuition cost?
JH: UPIKE is more expensive, simply because it’s a private university and only charges one rate (with no lower in-state student price). Tuition is about $38,800 annually. One of the programs that’s unique to the Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine was started when the Kentucky General Assembly created a scholarship called the Kentucky Coal Severance Scholarship for medical students. It was an (tuition) equalization scholarship, and it’s roughly $1 million per year for students who are from coal-producing counties and who will return to a coal-producing county and serve as a primary-care physician for at least four years. It’s a loan forgiveness plan and equalizes (reduces) the cost for UPIKE medical students to equal the in-state tuition for medical students at UK and UofL.
EL: What is UPIKE’s annual budget for all operating expenses?
JH: It’s $46 million.
EL: Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) has its strategy summit 2015 scheduled for May 11, 2015. What will the summit meeting involve and what key issues will be reviewed?
JH: Gov. Beshear and Congressman Rogers created SOAR as a safe platform for leaders in Appalachia to talk about a new economy. I applaud their work and their vision. I would give them the very highest rating on any scale. Some people incorrectly associate the “new economy” as a “post-coal economy,” and that’s a little unfair because coal is our region’s abundant resource. I don’t usually use the term “post-coal economy” but rather a new economy, because the 8,000-plus mining jobs Eastern Kentucky has lost are not coming back. Even if the coal industry returns to the zenith of production, which was around 2004, those jobs are not going to come back because of automation and more efficient mining techniques. Before SOAR, it was almost taboo to talk about a new economy or any other economy that wasn’t coal-based. And now coal leaders, great leaders in our community, are talking about the fact that Eastern Kentucky must have other sources of income and jobs other than coal. SOAR will help propel east Kentucky and Appalachia well into the future.
EL: What are some of Kentucky’s state government initiatives to help boost Eastern Kentucky’s economy?
JH: Using “dark fiber” (installed but unused fiber-optic Internet cable) to provide high-speed service to East Kentucky is critically important. The great equalizer, as we both know, is not rail systems, access to waterways or highways; it’s access to technology. And with access to technology, any area can do anything. Communities can create new economies around technology. You can’t always create a new economy around infrastructure, but the technological infrastructure is a great equalizer. It’s just like education.
Four-laning the Mountain Parkway is also critical, again for mass transportation. East Kentucky does not have direct access to the interstates, and that does create less opportunity. But with the widening of the four-lane from Lexington to Pikeville, the region will have that same access to Lexington and also to Charleston, W.Va., which gives Pikeville four-lane access to all of the interstates.
EL: What educational offerings will UPIKE offer to enhance the quality of Eastern Kentucky’s workforce?
JH: East Kentucky for many years has experienced the great brain drain syndrome, where our very best and brightest are leaving, moving to metropolitan areas and never returning. Institutions like the University of Pikeville have to work at a double rate, if you will, to try to recruit that same intellect into Eastern Kentucky. Our focus has been retaining that intellectual capacity, because those young professionals are the thought leaders, the future visionaries, that will help change and create this new economy. But if we don’t retain our brightest and best, then the problem becomes more widespread. And so that’s why UPIKE is creating these colleges of opportunity and access.
I have two sons, and someone asked me a couple of months ago, why are you working so hard and so quickly to establish all of these colleges? And my answer is simple: Tina and I want our two sons to have opportunity in Appalachia so they don’t have to leave because of the lack of access. And I can assure you, the colleges UPIKE has created are only the beginning. We’ve got a strategic plan to meet every comprehensive need, and that’s because I selfishly want my two sons and every other son and daughter to have that opportunity to be able to stay and not have to leave. Eastern Kentucky has to create that contemporary, urban mentality. And that’s why UPIKE is working very closely with the City of Pikeville to create all of these expanded opportunities.
EL: Eastern Kentucky has extremely mountainous terrain, limited four-lane interstate and state roadways, has experienced outmigration of young people to urban areas because job opportunities in Eastern Kentucky are limited, and has a real or perceived lower quality of life because of the lack of retail, entertainment, cultural and social venues. Outmigration creates declines in population and aging demographics that also make the region less attractive as a home for young people and more challenging as a trade area in which businesses can successfully expand or open new businesses. How will the downward-spiraling business cycle be modified to stimulate a new, vibrant and expanding economy in Eastern Kentucky?
JH: We really have to narrow our focus, because Eastern Kentucky can’t be all things to all people. And unfortunately, just like central Kentucky, not every city in central Kentucky has the vibrancy and the sustainability Lexington offers. And that’s what we’re facing in East Kentucky. In all honesty, there are some parts of East Kentucky, some small towns and cities, that are going to struggle, and I don’t know that they will ever see their populations replenished. Four or five of our key cities – Pikeville, Hazard, London, Somerset and I could probably name several more – have very, very bright futures. You will see growth in cities of excellence and opportunity. Strategically, we need to invest in key cities, because it’s simply impossible to invest in every city. Our region can focus on healthcare, education and technology. Those are three things we can do very well in East Kentucky along with our natural resources. With an abundance of coal, natural gas and timber, we need to continue to build upon those resources. We need to build a healthy economy around coal byproducts. That’s our region’s most abundant resource, and there are other forms of energy that coal can produce.
EL: How have programs like Southeastern Kentucky Economic Development, the Appalachian Regional Commission, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, HUD, the U.S. Small Business Administration, and the Kentucky Small Business Development Centers added to improving the local business environment?
JH: UPIKE works with every group that you mentioned here, and all of those groups are critical. And the one thing I would caution taxpayers to think about is this: I would not look at those entities as an entitlement; I would look at them as an investment. If public and private entities do not continue to invest in places like East Kentucky – and there are other parts across the country that are in a similar position – then it’s going to cost more in related issues: poor health, jobless rates, etc. All of these organizations, especially ARC, have made an unbelievable investment in infrastructure. These investments are long-term, over the next 25 to 50 years, and they will make a major impact in helping create a new economy across East Kentucky.
EL: Some of the smallest counties in Kentucky, with populations of less than 8,000, are located in Eastern Kentucky. If these counties continue to decline in population, how can they be financially viable with a smaller and diminishing tax base? Do you foresee a time when several counties merge to become financially more efficient through consolidation of services like schools, courts, jails, executive and legislative branches, public safety, utilities and infrastructure?
JH: Consolidating services for greater efficiency was discussed at SOAR as a possible solution. And I’m not opposed to that thought process. It’s very complex because of the topography – the sheer geology and the lack of infrastructure. A drive through only three counties in Eastern Kentucky can take literally a full day, because of inadequate road systems. That’s one of the challenges. But the opportunities lie in cost savings. I firmly support the idea of looking at consolidated resources and county governments. Kentucky has 120 counties; West Virginia has 55.
EL: You worked closely with Paul Patton when you first started at the University of Pikeville. Can you comment briefly on Gov. Patton?
JH: With all due respect to all other leaders in Kentucky, I believe Paul Patton will go down as the greatest leader this commonwealth has ever seen. And I don’t say that politically; I say that based on the things that he did, especially in education reform. Patton’s focus on education and his ability to get things done by working across the aisle and being able to rally people collectively were his best attributes. When he left the governor’s office to return to Pikeville and become the president of the University of Pikeville, he really elevated the profile of UPIKE into one of the great institutions moving forward. I have never worked with anyone who cares more about people and the success of people than Paul. He genuinely wants people to have a better life than he has, and some leaders, quite frankly, don’t carry that mentality every day. He’s a phenomenal leader.
EL: If somebody asked you why a high school student might want to consider attending UPIKE, what would you tell the parent?
JH: As an alum, I can tell you firsthand that the experience will change your life. UPIKE’s focus is on affordability, access and opportunity for all our students. When parents drop their children off on the hill – UPIKE is on top of a hill – they do so with the hope and the dream that their sons and daughters will have a better life than they have had. And as educators, that’s our job: to create an opportunity, access to learning about new things and places, and to learn that we’re all different. We’re diverse. No one is more major or less minor than someone else. So I don’t use the term “minority.” As Kentuckians, we’re all in this together. We’re one world, striving to work together to help each other find a better way. And that better way is finding your passion. At UPIKE, we help students find their passion, and then we try to strategically place them in positions where they’re going to be very successful in living that passion. Because if they’re passionate, they’re going to do good. That’s what UPIKE is about, from our faculty to our staff to the president. I have an open-door policy, and I try to learn every student’s name. It’s difficult, but I want to know who they are, what their aspirations are, and I want to help them get there, because I had a president and faculty when I was at UPIKE that did the same thing. That’s critical.
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