Reassuring to see three of the community’s most influential leaders reaffirm their support for Jim Ramsey as the University of Louisville President in a letter to the Courier-Journal on Monday. Shouldn’t have been necessary in light of what has been accomplished at UofL under his leadership since 2002.
The letter was signed by Jim Patterson, founder of Rally’s and Long John Silver’s, David Jones, Sr., co-founder of Humana, Inc. and Bill Stone, president of Louisville Plate Glass. All three have served as members of UofL boards and have been active in many leadership roles in the community. They cited some examples of UofL’s progress during Ramsey’s administration:
— More Fulbright scholars than Harvard.
— Record ACT scores.
— 5,000 students living on campus.
— Admission into the exclusive Atlantic Coast Conference.
— A vastly expanded campus.
— A foundation worth $1 billion.
Some of these accomplishments were considered totally unrealistic when Ramsey was named President. They have been accompanied by major capital projects and beautification efforts while the University has assumed a dynamic leadership role in the community.
“Jim Ramsey has been the driving force behind this record growth of the most meaningful asset in our community, our hometown university,” they wrote, while acknowledging the university has some issues, as does “any complex organization with thousands of employees and hundreds of departments.”
The reason for the letter stems from criticism of Ramsey by Steve Wilson, a member of the Board of Trustees who has called for an audit of the University of Louisville Foundation, suggesting that the foundation should be administered by the university.
Wilson, who is chief executive officer of 21c Hotels, is a wealthy investor and self-professed environmentalist. He once proposed building a 62-story Museum Plaza on the riverfront in downtown Louisville. A groundbreaking ceremony was actually held in October of 2007, with then-Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson participating. The project lingered and died a few years later, failing to obtain essential governmental guarantees
He and his wife, Laura Brown, own Hermitage Farms in Goshen and hosted the Hermitage Grand Gala prior to this year’s Kentucky Derby. He also owns the Kentucky Bison Company.
Wilson also is a major political contributor, alternately listing his occupation as a farmer or hotel owner. He has given consistently to the Democrat party, including candidates John Yarmuth, Ben Chandler and Alison Grimes in recent years.
Coincidentally, it was Wilson who expressed some concern about the new John H. Schnatter Center for Free Enterprise at the university, funded by gifts of $4.6 million from Schnatter and $1.6 million from Charles Koch, a well-known advocate of free enterprise and Republican causes. Ramsey also happens to be a Democrat, appointed by Gov. Paul Patton, but this had to be a source of irritation for Wilson.
It comes as no surprise that Wilson has been joined in his criticism by Craig Greenberg, as an attorney with Frost, Brown & Todd. Greenberg also is an employee of Wilson’s 21c Hotels company, serving as president of the company. A news release issued in January 2012 says Greenberg’s involvement with 21c Hotels began in 2001 “when he structured and sourced the financing for the flagship Louisville property.”
Wilson and Greenberg, as developers, are sometimes forced to compete with the UofL Foundation, which has become one of the largest real estate developers in Louisville. As UofL Trustee Jonathan Blue has stated, “a well-funded foundation that enjoys benefits unavailable to for-profit businesses, such as exemptions from property taxes.”
“I have to applaud U of L … They thought out of the box: ‘Lets get more revenue. Lets do this Nucleus building, to their credit…Lets essentially mirror a private development entity to land more revenue so we can offset tuition. Kudos to them.”
For Wilson and Greenburg to suggest that the UofL Foundation essentially be dissolved and folded into the university is not an action consistent with individuals supportive of the university. They fail to, or don’t want to, acknowledge what the foundation has made possible at UofL.
One would like to believe that Wilson and Greenberg have the university’s best interests in mind but, if they have genuine concerns, they have been muted in their disruptive approaches to the issues. Not surprising these days for some people to want to do away with something that has led to great things for the university, possibly for their own causes.
Jim Patterson, David Jones, Sr. and Bill Stone have been around the block a few times, recognizing what’s best for the University of Louisville and the community. Recognized as strong business and community leaders, they have broken their silence on an issue vital to the university’s continued progress.
Jim Ramsey has earned their respect and support, confident he will continue to lead UofL to new breakthroughs.