Grissom pulls strings at UofL, but mum on aspirations

The Courier Journal’s Andrew Wolfson finally gets around to doing a profile of David Grissom, the Chairman of the University of Louisville Board of Trustees. Interesting piece, clearly intended to cast Grissom as an S.O.B. in dealing with UofL’s financial challenges. Providing no clue,  however, about where he wants to take the school.

The timing of the article is curious, appearing in the printed edition on the same day as an op-ed report from the UofL Foundation indicating that all reviews and audits of the foundation were complete. Concluding that “there has never been a better time to invest in the University of Louisville.”

David Grissom assumed the chairmanship of the Board of Trustees in January 2017 when the previous board was dissolved.

Took the C-J long enough, almost an entire year after Grissom assumed the role in January 2017. Not like he’s a newcomer to the community, involved in local business and civic activities over five decades. And the lengthy front page story does not include any direct quotes or recent attributions from the man himself.

The writer has to lean heavily on friends, associates and former business contacts for insights into Grissom personality and operating style. The subject of the article is apparently reluctant to answer calls or be interviewed. No real insights into his thinking and actions.

What would have been helpful would have been some indications about what Grissom wants to achieve. Not that his failure to communicate publicly is the CJ’s fault. Grissom rarely speaks publicly, usually dealing with business associates or fellow board members under controlled conditions.

Grissom, in fact, has never said anything about his aspirations for UofL, either during his public pronouncements at press conferences or during board meetings. Most of his comments deal with financial issues, which are his stock and trade.

Grissom is no newcomer to high education issues, having served for 22 years as Board Chairman at Centre College in Danville. Forbes Magazine recently ranked Centre as 89th among colleges and universities in the U.S., and the best of any Kentucky school.

David Grissom (right) having lunch with Centre College President John Roush at a Frankfort restaurant in December (Card Game photo).

Grissom’s reluctance to communicate a vision for UofL makes him vulnerable to people assigning him motivations, real or imagined. For example, he wanted to conduct the search for a new UofL President on a confidential basis in order to attract the best possible candidate. This made him a target of faculty groups concerned about his intentions, eventually resulting in a compromise that will allow faculty members to participate after signing disclosure agreements. Public forums will  allow other groups to have input.

A sizeable group of people who have invested heavily in UofL athletics over the years is concerned that Grissom wants to de-emphasize sports. Especially following the dismissal of Tom Jurich who made UofL athletics a premier brand during his 20 years as athletic director.

Interim Athletic Director Vince Tyra with UofL football player Reggie Bonnafon on Senior Day (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

The CJ story indicates that Grissom wants UofL to value academics as much as it does sports. We don’t know if the former athlete at Centre College has ever said that or if that was a reporter putting words in his mouth. A segment of UofL fans is scared, despite the hiring of long-time businessman and fan Vince Tyra as Interim Athletic Director– despite Tyra’s assurances that he wants to maintain UofL athletics as a premier program.

Jack Coffee, who owns the Louisville Rivals operation and published the Louisville Sports Report, says the “change in direction for UofL is an offense to those of us that have given millions to the university.” Coffee has written an Open Letter to Gov.Bevin calling for the Governor to ask Grissom to resign from the board. He also has started a petition drive at an online site, providing a way for other UofL fans to get involved.

This observer has to believe that the last thing the school needs at this point is Governor Bevin reasserting himself in UofL’s business. The school is now off accreditation probation, coming to grips with the financial issues, solidifying the UofL Foundation, and, at long last, beginning the process of conducting a national search for the next President. It has taken a while but a lot has been accomplished under the new board.

Many Louisville leaders believe David Grissom is best qualified to lead the University of Louisville into a new era, with the ability to identify people who can gain national respect for UofL in academic circles, as well as athletics. Grissom can help his cause by clearly and forcefully enunciating his goals for the school.

Right now there is still no clear direction or leadership, with second guessing and speculation filling the vacuum. Until Grissom fills in some of the blanks, or Interim President Greg Postel does it for him, the anxiety will continue, and the University’s future direction will be hindered by controversy and uncertainty.

Postel’s giving to UofL has been spotty through 23-year career

Greg Postel became Interim President of the University of Louisville in January 2017 (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Greg Postel, who has been on the University of Louisville payroll since 1994, says he cares a great deal about the school, suggesting that he has been very supportive of UofL.  His financial support, however, while notable, has been erratic, and interesting in one instance.

Postel’s record of giving to the University is relevant because he wants to be UofL’s next President, responsible for overseeing and growing the school endowment, now valued in the neighborhood of $770 million.   Postel would be the individual expected to inspire donors to invest in the University’s future. It would help if he had been generous himself.

An open records request to the University by UofLCardGame yielded the information that Postel has donated a total of $36,120 to UofL over the past 23 years. That’s for an employee currently drawing at least $950,000 annually, serving as Interim President of the school and Interim Executive Vice President for Health Affairs.

Postel’s most significant donation to the University was on December 1, 1998 when as Assistant Professor of Radiology  he made a lump sum gift of $35,000 to the UofL School of Medicine. Coincidentally, he was named permanent Chairman of the Radiology Department in April just five months later.

This largest gift coming during the administration of former UofL President John Shumaker who reportedly increased the school’s endowment from $183 million to $500 million from 1995 to 2001. No way of knowing 20 years later whether there was any relationship between the gift and the appointment. The timing is interesting.

Postel actually has made only three financial donations to the school, all of them to the School of Medicine. His second financial contribution was 14 years later. It was a gift of $1,000 to the school and the J. Graham Brown Cancer Center in connection with the old Mint Julep Ball before the 2012 Kentucky Derby.

His most recent gift to UofL came four years ago in October of 2014 when he pledged a modest $120, again to the School of Medicine. The money was deducted in amounts of $10 each via payroll deductions over the next 12 months. He has made no contributions to UofL athletics or other academic programs.

The initial gift of $35,000 was credited solely to Postel. The subsequent donations were in the name of Postel and his wife Sally L. Postel, a University of Kentucky graduate. A response to an open records request to UK indicated that the Postels have made no contributions to the Lexington school.

According to the response to our information request on Dec. 21st, Postel had not made any additional financial contributions to UofL since becoming Interim President in January 2017.

UofL builds on momentum in academic, athletic construction

Construction continues full speed ahead on the new $83 million classroom facility on Belknap Campus, scheduled to open in the fall of 2018 (top photo). Artist’s rendering shows the future (bottom photo).

Hopefully, John Schnatter looks around next time he attends a board meeting on the University of Louisville’s Belknap Campus. The founder of Papa John’s Pizza harbors a misconception that all of the construction is going on in athletics.

Despite all the garbage dominating the front pages these days, UofL continues to build on the momentum of the past couple of decades — in both academics and athletics. The project that overwhelms them all is a new $83 million classroom facility that will open in the fall of 2018.

Significantly positive news was drowned out by a personnel issue during the most recent Board of Trustees meeting, including these nuggets from an audit of fiscal year 2017:

— The University’s financial position remains strong with total assets reaching $1.3 billion, including a $28.7 million increase in net position during the year.

— UofL had operating revenue growth from nearly every source, and the school’s operating loss was diminished by $33.6 million.

— Scholarship and financial aid expense was slightly lower than the prior year, resulting in an overall 5.8% increase in net tuition revenue.

— The University continued to invest in new and renovated facilities, including the following from the 2016-17 fiscal year:

Completed in 2017

  • Medical Dental Research Building Masonry Restoration, $1,287, 594
  • Ekstrom Library 3rd Floor Renovation, $2,750,000
  • Thornton Academic Center, $19,300,000
  • Baxter I Supplemental Chiller, $617,000
  • Ekstrom Library HVAC Upgrade $550,000
  • Donald Baxter Cardiology Facility, $2,079,000

Completed in 2016

  • Ekstrom Library 1st Floor Renovation, $2,200,000
  • Medical Dental Building 4th Floor, $705,000
  • K-Wing 2nd Floor Renovation, $1,075,000
  • Resurface Running Track at Cardinal Park, $910,000

In Progress

  • Belknap Classroom Building, $83,560,000
  • Student Activity Center Renovation $38,500,000
  • PJCS North End Zone Expansion, $63,250,000
  • Vivarium Study, Medical Campus, $105,064

In The Works

  • UofL Athletic Association Production Studio, $8,000,000

Money trail for UofL Trustees: one-sided support for one school

Follow the money, they said. So we did.

Any concerns of University of Louisville supporters about possible relationships between some UofL Trustees and the University of Kentucky appear to be misplaced.  The financial ties are minimal at best based on actual giving patterns.

Lifetime contributions to UofL from the trustees dwarf the giving to UK, with Louisville institution receiving a total of $30.5 million in overall financial gifts as compared to $1.6 million to the Lexington school. That’s according to the responses of UofL and UK to open records requests from Card Game.

A request was submitted to the University of Kentucky Alumni Department and Office of Philanthropy following our recent publication of a list of trustee donations to UofL that prompted some concern about possible UK bias on the board. The UofL records were through August, the UK results were through last week. Here are the results (click on the list to enlarge).

Gifts to the athletics programs from the trustees included $19.2 million to UofL and $72,660 to Kentucky. The bulk of contributions to UofL athletics was from John Schnatter for naming rights to Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. Four other trustees have given a total of $82,000 to UofL athletics, including David Grissom, James Rogers, Sandra Frazier and Ronald Wright.

Only two UofL trustees have contributed to UK athletics, including donations of $64,150 from Schnatter and $8,510 from Brian Cromer.

UofL also receives a much higher percentage of trustee giving to the universities, with Louisville getting $11.2 million from 11 members, compared to Kentucky receiving $1.55 million from four members of the UofL board.

Academic gifts to UofL included $5.7 million from Schnatter, $5.3 million from Frazier, $108,047 from Grissom, $25,650 from Dianne Medley, and $4,748 from Enid Trucious-Hayes. Gifts of $700 or less have come from William Armstrong, Raymond Burse, Vishnu Tirumula, James Rogers and Cromer.

Brian Cromer, a UK grad who voted against firing Tom Jurich as Athletic Director, is the only UofL Trustee who has given more to UK than Louisville.

— Cromer, a UK grad, voted against firing Tom Jurich at the Oct. 10 meeting of the UofL Board. As stated above, he has given $8,510 to UK athletics but none to UofL athletics. He has given $285 to UK for academics and $75 to UofL for academics.

— William Armstrong, another UK graduate, has given $640 to UofL, all of it for academics, while giving nothing to Kentucky. Bonita Black, the third UK grad on the board, has not made any contributions to either university.

— James Roger, the UofL product who made the motion to fire Jurich, has given $50,350 to UofL athletics and $100 to academics.

— Nitin Sahney, the University of Punjab, India graduate, also has not contributed any money to either school.

— The list of Schnatter contributions to UK academics includes $5,000 to the Kentucky Children’s Hospital. All of his gifts come under the auspices of the Schnatter Family Foundation.

— Of Grissom’s $350 in gifts to UK academics, a total of $250 was to the Sanders-Brown Center for Aging.

If following the money is the key to discerning the motives of the trustees, they are obviously more prone to supporting UofL than UK — at least among those who are making actual contributions. If the theory is true, the collective loyalty of the members heavily leans in the direction of UofL.

There is, however, a significant disparity between the top five givers and the rest of the board, with several members seemingly needing to loosen the grips on their purse strings. Board membership should include a strong commitment to supporting UofL’s financial well-being. That would eliminate any questions about loyalties.

Despite harsh ouster, Tom Jurich reaffirms loyalty to Louisville

Tom Jurich unceremoniously pushed out the door after 20 years of remarkable progress at the University of Louisville.

One couldn’t watch the Tom Jurich interview on WHAS-11 News and not feel that a great wrong has been inflicted on Tom and University of Louisville fans. Such a miscarriage for him to go out this way.

Twenty years of total dedication to the school’s athletic program, building a national brand, providing premium facilities, attracting quality coaches and athletes. Tom Jurich out following a clumsy restructuring of the Board of Trustees and the crushing blow of still another basketball scandal.

Gone, 20 years gone, after a two- or three-minute meeting with Interim President Greg Postel, a letter with a bunch of trumped up charges, asked to exit the campus immediately, leaving his work and his personal belongings in an office that remains sealed to this day.

David Grissom, John Schnatter and Greg Postel can skate for a while. But sooner or later each of them is going to have to answer for their harsh treatment of a local hero recognized nationally for his good works. As well they should. The ugly treatment of Tom Jurich is felt and shared throughout the community.

WHAS-11 Video

Tom saying his family plans to stay in Louisville, that he still loves and will always cheer for the University of Louisville. No ill will, no words of disparagement for those who tossed him out like a sack of garbage, just bewilderment and hurt for a man who moved the program light years from when he accepted the job.

Asked if the fans were owed an apology for the scandal, Jurich took advantage of the opportunity to offer one. Taking advantage of a rare public appearance to say he was sorry — for something that was not his fault. His responsibility maybe, but not his fault.

Doubtful, however, that he will ever receive an apology for the way he was made to leave the campus without even a goodbye to his coaches and staff.

Louisville is extremely fortunate to have had Jurich. He’s not leaving the city.  One can expect him to continue to promote the University at every opportunity if at all possible. It’s an integral part of who he is, a big part of his family, with three kids who graduated from the school, including son Mark who still works there.

Tom Jurich wants only what is best for the school, making his personal concerns secondary to the University. We’re fairly certain the same thing could not be said about many of the other characters in this ongoing ordeal.