Providing a top-notch education with affordable tuition is one of the biggest challenges facing public institutions of higher learning. For WILLIAM THRO, the recently named general counsel of the University of Kentucky, the school's commitment to that noble goal was the job's primary selling point.
Nearly 150 years ago, the university made a pact with Kentucky residents to do its part to create a brighter future for the state. University president Eli Capilouto refers to that commitment as the "Kentucky Promise," and he has vowed to reaffirm it in a 21st-century context.
Thro, himself a son of the Bluegrass State, left home to attend college in Indiana, earning his bachelor's degree from Hanover College in 1986. He earned his J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1990. Thro then put in a stint overseas, taking a one-year leave of absence during law school to earn a master's in political science from the University of Melbourne.
The new job brings Thro back to a Kentucky that continues to struggle with massive poverty statewide. "You cannot raise tuition revenues because you want to ensure that the typical student in the state has affordable access," Thro says. But managing the budgetary realities of state and federal funding shortages presents an enormous challenge for administrators. "And I need to provide the legal advice for that," he says.
Thro has made a career of tackling legal issues related to education. When he was hired by the Colorado attorney general's office in 1991, he was given a choice between joining its criminal appellate section or the education unit. The young lawyer hesitated to pass up an opportunity to argue regularly before the state supreme court, but opted for the education position.
He stayed in the department for six years, serving as litigation counsel for all of the state's public colleges and universities and advising the Colorado Department of Education. "The work was fascinating," says Thro. "It exposed me to the world of higher education, allowed me to interact with deans and presidents and provosts, and gave me a feel for the challenges that confront higher education."
Following the Colorado job, Thro spent two years in a similar position with the AG's office in Virginia and subsequently served as that state's solicitor general. He joins the University of Kentucky from Christopher Newport University, where he was the small Virginia liberal arts school's first in-house counsel.
For the new job, Thro finally got to return to his old Kentucky home in October. He replaces BARBARA JONES, who retired from the University of Kentucky in June.
"I won't say that when I started as an assistant attorney general I said, 'Oh, I'm going to be working for the government for my entire life,' " says Thro. "But I went into public service to make a difference, and I like to think that I have."