Kitts thrilled to call UNA home

President-elect Kenneth Kitts addresses audience concerns when he visited campus Oct. 16. The UNA board of trustees selected Kitts to serve as the university’s newest leader.

In the beginning there were 46 applicants, but in the end, only one remained.

The UNA presidential search spanned several months as the pool of candidates narrowed to 19, then to nine, then to three until the board named Kenneth Kitts its choice for UNA’s next head honcho.

Kitts was working in his office at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke when the call came in from Presidential Search Committee Chairman Joel Anderson.

“I was thrilled — just absolutely thrilled,” Kitts said. “I’ve been excited about UNA since we got to come meet the entire community.”

When the university’s search firm initially contacted Kitts, he was not looking for a new position. He said he did not begin researching UNA until the call came in from Wheless Partners.

“I wasn’t on the market,” Kitts said. “Being eight hours away, I didn’t know much about Florence and the Shoals. But I started looking at the UNA website and educating myself about UNA and the community and the region.

“I was intrigued. The Shoals has it’s own unique identity. Everyone at the school and in the area had a tremendous amount of pride.

“I made a quick trip over before my airport interview on a Sunday afternoon, and I really liked what I saw.”

Kitts said because he and his wife, Dena, have two young children — Colin, 8, and Corbin, 5 — any consideration of a career change that requires moving is a family decision.

“This is not only right for me professionally but also for my family, and we felt like UNA and Florence were the right fit,” he said. “So after my interview, we were keeping our fingers crossed.”

Kitts said his wife was very supportive of him pursuing the application process for the presidency. She was the first person he called after his conversation with Anderson ended.

“We were blessed in our search, and we had some very high quality candidates,” Anderson said. “When you look at the particular needs of this university at this particular point in time, in order to provide a successful future, one of these (candidates) started to evolve as the better choice.”

He said he believed Kitts had the greatest ability of the candidates to move UNA forward in the future.

Kitts brings more than 20 years of classroom experience and 14 years in university administration.

He earned a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Appalachian State University in 1985.

He went on to receive a master’s degree at the university in 1987 before getting a Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina in 1995.

“Being in the classroom is my passion,” Kitts said. “Soon I look forward to teaching at UNA.”

He said a university president being in the classroom is of utmost importance.

“This is something that has been very important for the faculty since President (Bill) Cale announce his retirement early this year,” said Faculty Senate President Scott Infanger. Cale had academic experience. He had the perspective of what it means to be a faculty member at a university.

“That was one of the absolutes for faculty support. Kitts rose up through the ranks.”

He knows what it means to be a faculty member. He’s been through the difficulties. He’s not just applying theory. He’ll have experience that will temper his decisions.

“So, we’re very glad the decision landed on Kitts because we as faculty have confidence he will be able to understand us.”

Kitts said being in the classroom after he arrives at UNA will allow him to understand student concerns.

“It helps you stay in touch with students and what’s on their minds,” he said. “You’re not getting that second- or third-hand. You know what they’re thinking and how they’re feeling.

“I want people to understand where I came from and I haven’t forgotten that. At the end of the day, we’re about education, so what goes on in the classroom is most important, and I need to be there and be part of that.”

Spending time in the classroom is not Kitts’ only passion.

His hobbies include traveling, reading and following college sports — especially college football.

He said he expects he will become a fixture at UNA games, after growing up in the mountains of North Carolina and developing a love for the game.

Kitts said as a fan of classic rock, he also appreciates the musical culture surrounding the Shoals area.

“Some of my favorite bands are Bob Segar and The Eagles,” he said. “I hadn’t even heard of Muscle Shoals before the search firm called me except in the Lynard Skynard song “Sweet Home Alabama.”

He said because his children are young and active, he and his wife spend the majority of their downtime attending sporting events and other activities.

“If they’re in kickboxing, baseball or church activities, we’re with them,” he said.

Now, the Kitts family looks forward to the transition to Shoals living — in the president’s house, of course.

He expects the area food will be one of the most enjoyable perks.

“I grew up in the south, so I love vegetables. I enjoy eating greens and beans—that’s what I grew up on.”