Interview with Don W. Byars, II, May 25, 2004

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:00 - College years / Work as a middle school teacher / First role at the University of Kentucky

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Partial Transcript: --years in admissions and I'm curious about how you made your college choice.

Segment Synopsis: Byars explains that his desire in high school was to play basketball in college. Byars describes how he ended up being recruited by a few colleges. Byars states that he chose to commit to Morehead State University to play basketball. He adds that his cousin helped to recruit him to Morehead because he was a teaching assistant there himself. Byars states that he received a bachelor's degree in secondary education. He started out teaching life science at Dunbar Middle School and also was an assistant basketball coach. After this, Byars says that he transferred to Beaumont Middle School and assisted in track. Byars explains that one of his students' mothers really liked him and how he taught. The mother worked on the board of trustees for the University of Kentucky and told Byars about a job opening. Byars says that she connected him to the UKY admissions office to get him an interview. After two years of teaching, Byars states that he retired from that field and started working at the University of Kentucky in admissions. Byars describes his first job as the Assistant Director of Pre-Admissions. He explains that it consisted of recruiting students and traveling around the state to represent UK in college fairs. He says that he also would recruit from community colleges and high schools by going to their schools and representing UK. Byars was the first African American in admissions at UK and he was hired by without having a prior background in admissions.

Keywords: Admissions; Admissions directors; Assistant directors; Basketball; Basketball coaches; Bourbon County (Ky.); College recruitment; Colleges; Don Byars; Don W. Byars; Don W. Byars II; High school basketball; High schools; Middle school education; Middle school educators; Middle schools; Morehead State University; Pre-admissions; Pre-admissions directors; Programs; Recruitment; Teachers; University of Kentucky

Subjects: African American college students--Social conditions; African American college students.; Basketball.; College administrators; College environment; College sports.; College students--Social conditions; Community college administrators; Education, Higher--Kentucky; Effective teaching.; High school teachers; Minorities in higher education; Morehead State University; Universities and colleges--Administration.; Universities and colleges--Admission; University of Kentucky

00:05:53 - Director of Minority and Community College Services / Admissions policy switch

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Partial Transcript: Now in 1975 then, you became Director of Minority and Community College Services. What were your responsibilities in that role?

Segment Synopsis: Byars describes how he recruited African American students from high schools for enrollment at UK and kept up connections with the community college system. Byars explains that he had to work hard to prove to African American families that UK was a great school due to its reputation for being a racist institution. Byars talks about how he was the first person to start the minority recruitment group and, because he was a person of color himself, prospective African American students had a degree of trust in him. Byars discusses how he traveled all over, not just the state, but all over the country to high schools and community colleges to recruit students to UK. Byars discusses UK's switch to a selective admissions policy and its effects. He explains that, when the policy was changed, it was accompanied by a major drop in freshman enrollment at the university. However, this returned to normal after an adjustment period. Byars explains that his policy change was a result of discussion on in-state versus out-of-state students. Byars states that, although the freshman enrollment decreased, the school overall was fine following the policy change because there were plenty of transfer and graduate students to even out that drop. Byars discusses how the university went from being state funded to state assisted during his years of work there.

Keywords: Admissions directors; Admissions liaisons; Admissions policies; African-American Recruitment Program; Community college liaisons; Community colleges; Don Byars; Don W. Byars; Don W. Byars II; Enrollment; Funding; Grade point average (GPA); High schools; Open admissions; Programs; Recruiting students; Recruiting university students; SAT (standardized test); Selective admissions; State assisted programs; University of Kentucky

Subjects: ACT Assessment; African American college students--Social conditions; African American college students.; African American school administrators.; College administrators; College entrance achievement tests; College environment; College students--Social conditions; Community college administrators; Education, Higher--Kentucky; Minorities in higher education; Out-of-state students; School enrollment; Tuition; Universities and colleges--Administration.; Universities and colleges--Admission; University of Kentucky

00:15:04 - Evolution of Associate Director's role / Changes of youth / Evolution of admissions

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Partial Transcript: For almost the past twenty years, you’ve been the Associate Director of Admission, but you've really been in four different roles. Can you describe the evolution of your--your role as Associate Director?

Segment Synopsis: Byars discusses when he started working as an associate director and about the many different roles he had as an associate director. Byars explains that his priorities changed when he became a senior admissions director. Byars discusses how youth have become more competitive over the past thirty years. He believes that youth have realized that they have to compete globally with their grades and courses to get into the schools they desire. Byars says that youth have learned to utilize the resources around them, including talking to people from other ethnic backgrounds. Byars describes the shift to selective admission, how students have been able to do virtual tours of college campuses, how students now typically apply to 8-10 colleges instead of 1-2, how there are now early decision options, and the existence of homeschooling.

Keywords: Admissions directors; Admissions policy; Associate directors; Community colleges; Community outreach; Development; Don Byars; Don W. Byars; Don W. Byars II; Education costs; Global competition; Minority issues; Organizational change; Policy; Pre-admissions; Public relations; Registrars; Robinson's Scholars; Structural change; Student competition; Technology; Telephone registration; Transfer students; University competition; University of Kentucky; University registrars; University students; Virtual tours; Youth groups

Subjects: African American college students--Social conditions; African American college students.; Career fairs; College administrators; College environment; College registrars; College students--Social conditions; Education, Higher--Kentucky; Minorities in higher education; Personality and culture.; Service learning.; Universities and colleges--Administration.; Universities and colleges--Admission; University of Kentucky; Young adults.

00:26:41 - Changes in the recruitment of African American students / Effects of Affirmative Action policy / Response to university minority policy criticism

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Partial Transcript: How have--wha--what changes have you seen in--been a part of in that specific recruitment effort over the past 30 years? How has that changed?

Segment Synopsis: Byars explains that many African American families did not allow their kids to attend UK because of its racial issues, particularly in the form of Coach Rupp. Byars describes how his African American identity has given more weight to his words about how UK is a great school and helped to recruit African American students. Byars states that UK went from having only 150 African American students to having about 1,400 of them. Byars discusses the many organizations and individuals who help minorities get involved and fit in on UK's campus. Byars explains that he was hired at the university as a result of the Affirmative Action policy, so that he could go out and speak to students on behalf of being a person of color. Byars adds that African American students had to compete on the same level as all students to gain admission into UK. He claims that UK admissions seeks successful students, regardless of their ethnic background. Byars discusses the criticism that several UK presidents faced for not making minority issues more of a priority. Byars disagrees with much of the criticism, believing that UK presidents have, for the most part, always prioritized minority issues by establishing minority scholarships and organizations on campus.

Keywords: ACT (standardized test); Academic grades; Admissions; Adolph Rupp; African American administrators; African American athletes; African American students; African Americans; Albert "Happy" Chandler; Albert Benjamin "Happy" Chandler; Alumni; Credentials; Diversity; Don Byars; Don W. Byars; Don W. Byars II; Dr. Otis A. Singletary; Dr. Otis Arnold Singletary; Dr. Otis Singletary; Enrollment growth; Faculty; Freshmen; Happy Chandler; Minorities; Minority issues; Multicultural affairs; Multicultural student affairs; Office of Minority Affairs; Otis A. Singletary; Otis Arnold Singletary; Otis Singletary; Priority admissions; Recruitment; Recruitment of students; Scholarships; South Eastern Conference (SEC); Student Recruitment; Student activities; Test scores; University activities; University freshmen; University of Kentucky; University of Kentucky alumni; University of Kentucky faculty; University of Kentucky presidents; University presidents; University students

Subjects: African American college students--Social conditions; African American college students.; College Placement Services (U.S.); College administrators; College environment; College students--Social conditions; Conflict of generations; Education, Higher--Kentucky; Examinations.; Minorities in higher education; Minority college students; Race betterment.; Research grants.; Universities and colleges--Administration.; Universities and colleges--Admission

00:42:56 - Challenges and opportunities Byars and his wife experienced working on a predominantly white campus

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Partial Transcript: On a more personal level, um, yesterday at your retirement, uh, event, Loretta mentioned that when you came to the university, and you mentioned this earlier in our discussion, that you worked in an all white office except for yourself.

Segment Synopsis: Byars remarks that he never faced any challenges resulting from his identity as an African American. Byars states that he had a gift of communication and that his job was rewarding because he was able to recruit students and watch them graduate later. Byars discusses how he and his wife had a hard time not talking about their jobs at home and that, between the two of them, they created connections throughout the country. For some African American students and alumni, the Byars couple signified the University of Kentucky because they were highly respected.

Keywords: Admissions; Admissions cases; Careers; Challenges; College graduates; Communication; Community colleges; Deadlines; Don Byars; Don W. Byars; Don W. Byars II; Friendships; Growth; High schools; Minorities; Minority students; Opportunities; Public affairs; Retirement; Rewards; Social status; Time utilization; University admission; University graduates; University of Kentucky; University of Kentucky admissions; Work; Work load

Subjects: African American college students--Social conditions; African American college students.; College administrators; College environment; College graduates; College students--Social conditions; Education, Higher--Kentucky; Lexington (Ky.); Minorities in higher education; Occupations.; Universities and colleges--Administration.; Universities and colleges--Admission; University of Kentucky

00:51:43 - Byars' role in the community, including fostering children

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Partial Transcript: You--you mentioned your role in the community and you and Loretta have been very, very active in--in the Lexington community.

Segment Synopsis: Byars states that he and his wife always hold themselves to a high standard because they never know for sure who all is around them, who is looking up to them in college, and want to be approachable to anyone in need. Byars says that he and his wife bring children into their home and treat them like their own kids, having raised foster children. The Byars couple works with the church, the university, and with many other groups in the Lexington, Kentucky community for the sake of the university, community, and themselves.

Keywords: Accomplishments; African American communities; Athletics; Black communities; Children; Community; Community involvement; Community volunteering; Don Byars; Don W. Byars; Don W. Byars II; Family; Foster parenting; Memories; Recreation; Responsibilities; Volunteering

Subjects: College sports.; Community participation; Duty.; Foster parents.; Lexington (Ky.); University of Kentucky