FRANKFORT, Ky. (November 7, 2019) — After an extensive search, the Board of Directors of the Association of Independent Kentucky Colleges and Universities (AIKCU) has named OJ Oleka as its next president. Oleka, who currently serves as Chief of Staff for Kentucky State Treasurer Allison Ball, will assume his duties as AIKCU president on December 1. Oleka succeeds Gary S. Cox, Ph.D., who is retiring after serving as AIKCU president since 1997.
“The search process was a difficult one that included several outstanding candidates,” said University of Pikeville president Dr. Burton Webb, who co-chaired the search process. “OJ’s passion for higher education, his work advocating for those things in which he believes, and his strong relationships within the legislature will be incredible assets for AIKCU in the years to come.”
Oleka brings a deep understanding of higher education and workforce issues to his new role at AIKCU. Earlier this year Oleka was appointed by Governor Bevin to the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education and he has served on a number of state and local workgroups, boards, and committees focused on education and workforce issues.
“I am honored to have been selected to serve as president of AIKCU and work alongside our member institutions to create a new vision for independent higher education in Kentucky,” Oleka said in a statement. “Expanding access to higher education, advocating affordability for every student, and communicating to the legislature and business community how our institutions are essential to Kentucky’s economic and workforce needs will be the foundation of our success. I am fully prepared to lead that effort.”
Oleka is slated to earn a Ph.D. in Leadership in Higher Education in 2020 from Bellarmine University, where he previously earned an MBA. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Louisville, where he served as student body president and chaired the Kentucky Board of Student Body Presidents.
In addition to his experience working with policymakers as Chief of Staff in the Kentucky State Treasurer’s office, Oleka has directed campaign operations for a statewide gubernatorial campaign. He has served as an adjunct professor and published in peer-reviewed and popular publications. His education experience extends to the K-12 level, where he served Teach for America first as a corps member teaching in an under-resourced public school and later as a regional recruiter.
“The search committee selected OJ from a strong pool of candidates, and I am confident he will provide exceptional leadership to AIKCU and our members during these challenging times,” said outgoing AIKCU President Cox. “I feel good about the fact that I’m leaving the organization in capable hands.”
Oleka takes over a strong member organization representing the interests of Kentucky’s 18 four-year nonprofit private colleges and universities. During Dr. Cox’s 22-year tenure AIKCU merged the operations of its two precursor organizations, the Kentucky Independent College Foundation and the Council for Independent Kentucky Colleges and Universities; enhanced the role of private colleges in Kentucky’s education policy arena; substantially increased collaborative activities among members; and saw Kentucky Lottery-funded financial aid distributions to private college students grow from just over $10 million to more than $60 million per year.
“Dr. Gary Cox has been the consummate professional in leading our association of private higher education institutions in Kentucky for more than two decades. He has faithfully represented the diversity of our private colleges and universities while helping us to collectively tell our story of the role we play in enriching the quality of life in Kentucky and beyond,” said Dr. Michael V. Carter, president of Campbellsville University and chair of the AIKCU Board of Directors. “Dr. Cox’s service has not been to just private higher education. He has worked alongside the leaders of our public universities and colleges in a manner that has enriched our Commonwealth. All of us on the Board wish Dr. Cox the very best in the days ahead!”