David Grissom should share his vision for University of Louisville

When will the nightmares end, the ongoing fallout from the incessant body blows the University of Louisville has absorbed over the last couple of years? Not anytime soon obviously, with protracted dramas continuing to inflict ugly wounds, scarring the University’s reputation and the psyche of the UofL faithful.

The most encouraging thing during these dreary times is that UofL has built an intensely loyal group of partisans. Emerging over the past two decades from the shadow of the University of Kentucky to dominance in the state’s most prominent community. A base of supporters proud of Louisville’s accomplishments before all hell broke loose, wanting the dark clouds to dissipate.

Making that happen will require an aggressive approach to problem-solving, to establish a new vision for UofL. If anything has been confirmed during these ongoing ordeals, the University is about much more than athletics. UofL’s role in academics, research, health care and so many other facets of the community cannot be overstated. 

David Grissom could help the University of Louisville by being more forthcoming on his objectives.

Who would have believed a five years ago:

–That a President who had  transformed the campus would be forced to resign, his management style the target of a forensic audit. A Board of Trustees in disarray, so dysfunctional that the entire board would be replaced. The school’s endowment, once prompting a campus-wide celebration for reaching the $1 billion mark, is now only valued at $714 million.

–That UofL would actually be placed on academic probation largely because of a feud between a Governor and the State Attorney General. That state law would have to be rewritten to protect the existing board to deal with the accreditation threat. The question is still very much up in the air due to controversial UofL Foundation loans and investments.

–That a basketball program, so free of suspicion and recruiting violations during Rick Pitino’s tenure, would be sabotaged by a former player, bringing scandal and embarrassment to his former coaches and players. Dragging UofL’s name through the mud, hiding behind a lawyer, refusing to answer questions, apologizing to no one, protecting his own ass.

–That a group of adults on the NCAA Committee on Infractions would give more credence to the words of a prostitute than the testimony of UofL administrators. Dismissing the University’s self-imposed, post-season ban as insignificant, ignoring the coach’s record of compliance. Too cowardly to take away a national championship, forcing University administrators to do it to themselves.

The board has been busy making budget cuts, cutting out frills, and tightening financial belts, but there has been little public discussion about future direction.

One could go on. The University of Louisville has had more than its share of adversity. Some of it self-inflicted, possibly mismanagement, possibly overly creative approaches to advancing the University’s goals, overly generous rewards to those making some advances possible. Further harm coming from an inability to interact effectively with the media, damaging the perception and credibility of some former UofL administrators.

The University clearly has made great strides over the last decade and a half, clearly becoming one of the most powerful institutions in the community, if not the state, earning the admiration and loyalties of its supporters, alumni and fans. At the same time, however, creating antagonism among some affluent individuals in the community, as well as key politicians in Frankfort, some resenting the school’s growth, feeling threatened, either personally or for their alma mater.

A former UofL board member has told this writer that former Governor Steve Beshear asked for his help in dismantling the UofL Foundation, wanting to fold it into the University, making it subject to political appointments. Beshear’s last several appointments to the UofL Board of Trustees included people clearly motivated to make life difficult for then UofL President Jim Ramsey.

Also, there was considerable resentment from some developers in local construction circles, some arguing that UofL enjoyed unfair competitive advantages in real estate investments. Among them was a developer successful in getting the city to locate a new basketball arena on an expensive piece of property downtown. He would take some parting shots at Ramsey before leaving town.

The detractors reportedly also included a couple of developers who had failed to obtain financing for a 63-story tower in downtown Louisville, that the UofL Foundation declined to invest in the project. They would later become board members, requesting a UofL audit from the same State Auditor (Adam Edelen) whom their families had generously supported during his election campaign.

Some would argue that local media have become overly aggressive and antagonistic. That UofL news has high readership and viewership, especially if negative, in a community where more than 30 percent of the populace pledges allegiance to a rival university. 

Difficult for alumni and fans of some other schools to acknowledge what UofL has accomplished, some actually wanting to destroy what the school has achieved, perhaps thinking Louisville’s success is their misfortune. Rather than trying to understand how UofL succeeded, they fail to see how their favored school could improve by healthy competition.

Succeeding despite all these obstacles is going to require the continued loyalty of UofL supporters. A handful of fans have suggested they’ve had enough of the turmoil, others suggesting that the University owes them something. As if University employees are not besieged or worthy of their support during a dark period for the school. If ever there was a time for alumni and fans to support the school, it is now.

Putting the turmoil in the past also is going to require persistence and leadership from the Board of Trustees headed by David Grissom. The community has yet to hear anything from Grissom about his motivations in assuming the board leadership. Just a few random quotes here and there during board meetings. He has yet to effectively communicate his aspirations for the University. That alone could be a giant step forward in restoring confidence in the school’s future.

There has been little indication from Grissom about the University’s future. The board has been busy making budget cuts, cutting out frills, and tightening financial belts, but there has been little public discussion about future direction. No indication of a Presidential Search Committee, leaving supporters to guess about whether Acting President Dr. Greg Postel is the future or just a go-between.

The community, including the UofL staff, faculty, alumni, fans, and other supporters, needs to know what the Board wants to achieve. Yes, there are plenty of problems and challenges but what’s the ultimate goal? There have to be long-term objectives behind which UofL supporters can rally.

If it’s returning UofL to its upward trajectory, then say so. Reinforce the goal that the University of Louisville can be a preeminent research university. That UofL will not stop the decline in the endowment but that the school will aggressively continue to pursue donations, that it will set new all-time highs in contributions and in the endowment fund.

Say something, anything. UofL’s many supporters need and deserve to be reminded that the benefits of accomplishing some very challenging objectives will dramatically outweigh all the negativity that currently exists. All we’re hearing right now is a continuous unraveling of all the recent failings.

Time to look forward, time to get moving. There will always be detractors during times of success or failure. The University of Louisville, however, is deeply ingrained in the lifeblood of this community and the support will always be there. 

Keep Papa John under control at UofL board meetings

John Schnatter went a couple of hours without saying a word, at least during the public portion of the University of Louisville Board of Trustees meeting this week. Not easy for someone accustomed to being treated as near royalty in his hometown. 

And it was quite a contrast from a week before when he exhibited little self control, ranting about the UofL athletic department and another expansion of Cardinal Stadium. 

One wonders why Schnatter had reason to be upset? The athletic department has bent over backward to keep the Pizza magnate happy. Setting aside a special place for him to land his helicopter during football games at Cardinal Stadium. Allowing him to race his 1971 Camaro into the complex, wheels spinning, burning rubber. The football program also allowing him to completely cover the roof of the Brown & Williamson Club with the Papa John’s logo.

Interim President Greg Postel and Chairman David Grissom have their hands full already, even without John Schnatter’s antics.

Schnatter’s demeanor during the recent board meeting makes one suspect that someone may have finally denied him one of his outlandish wishes. Some sources believe his antagonism could date back to the second phase of the stadium expansion, possibly some special concessions on the party deck. 

Schnatter’s ego apparently knows no bounds. Would anyone be surprised if his next big request had been a sculpture of Papa John on the party deck? Making a special delivery no doubt. Not out of the question. He lives in a virtual castle and he referred to the football facility as “My stadium” during the board meeting. 

The strained look on his face during the trustees’ meeting made it appear as though he had been asked to remain quiet. This at a time when the University of Louisville is in need of positive reinforcement and constructive leadership. Had to be really difficult for him to hear Interim President Greg Postel describe Tom Jurich’s great success with the athletic program and assurance that the stadium expansion is well within budget.

Someone had obviously gotten to Schnatter, letting him know that his ranting was out of line, making him look foolish, embarrassing his fellow board members. This coming a day before it was announced that Schnatter had resigned from the board of the UofL Athletic Association and had been immediately replaced by university trustee James Rogers.

A long-time member of the University community, who wishes to remain unnamed, sees the fine hand of Trustees’ Chairman J. David Grissom at work in Schnatter’s resignation.

“It is not Schnatter’s style to resign for the good of the organization,” said the source. “My guess is that Grissom took him off the board because Schnatter is unpredictable in his rhetoric. Why else would another board appointment be made so quickly?

“This may have been one reason for the closed session at the Trustees’ meeting. Grissom does not want the wrath of Tom Jurich’s many supporters. Running Tom off would be the biggest mistake made by anyone. 

“Grissom also will not tolerate any trustee speaking to the media without his approval. Remember Schnatter’s parting comment on Wednesday, words to the effect that Grissom has it under control.”

Presumably that means Grissom will not tolerate any misdirection or outbursts at future Trustee meetings, especially from John Schnatter. 

Schnatter comments embarrass UofL and Papa John’s

John Schnatter talking nonsense at University of Louisville board meeting.

John Schnatter didn’t do anyone any favors with his off-the-wall statements during the University of Louisville board of trustees’ meeting on Wednesday. Least of all himself and the business he founded.

The usually affable spokesperson for Papa John’s comes off looking like a jerk and sounding like a dolt, casting unfounded aspersions toward the UofL athletic department. He also seems to have a short memory, having been one of the most generous supporters of the stadium that bears his company’s name.

Somehow Schnatter got the notion that the UofL athletic department is being mismanaged, and that the expansion of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium is an example of bad leadership under Tom Jurich. Nevermind that athletic department is probably the most successful part of the university or that Jurich is widely regarded as one of the most effective athletic directors around. The UofL department is self-sufficient, one of the best-funded in the nation, and more than $45 million has been raised from corporate donors for the $50-plus million stadium expansion.

Yet here’s Schnatter saying, “”Until you fix athletics, you cannot fix this university. You have to fix the athletics first. I have looked at this eight ways to Sunday. You have to fix athletics first, and then the university will get in line.”

There was an issue with the basketball program and it has been addressed by the university, and more punishment will be forthcoming from the NCAA. But other than that, Schnatter’s comments make no sense. This board of trustees should be able to recognize that the athletic department is a shining example of what can happen for the entire university under the right leadership.

One suspects that Schnatter may have been unduly influenced by comments from Interim President Greg Postel during a previous meeting. Postel allegedly told Schnatter that Jurich was “invisible,” not answering to the UofL board of trustees. 

That makes no sense because Tom Jurich has always gone overboard to be open with all segments of the community, including the university. This explains in part why the athletic department has been transformed under his leadership.

Postel’s assertion is typical of university politics, with one segment being envious of a more successful unit. Happens all the time on university campuses. Maybe Postel’s real agenda is to get a piece of some of the money that the athletic program is so good at generating.

Postel, no doubt, did not expect Schnatter to quote him. If there was any possibility of Postel receiving serious consideration for the President’s job, he can forget about that possibility after Wednesday’s board meeting. He can thank John Schnatter for going off the deep end, stripping Postel of his anonymity. 

Schnatter can expect Papa John’s Pizza to take a hit in Louisville, with some fans voicing support for a boycott on local message boards on Thursday. So many choices of pizza, so easy to narrow them down.

Maybe Wednesday was just a bad day for John Schnatter, and in the future, he and Tom Jurich will some day chuckle about the episode. But first Schnatter has a lot of explaining to do. His bizarre comments had nothing to do with reality.

Courier-Journal covers UofL and UK equally in sports, but hard news is another story

A few random thoughts about the Courier-Journal’s coverage of University of Louisville issues …

In case you missed it, Joe Gerth has a new column in the Courier-Journal, switching from political to a generalist approach, taking on the hot topics in town. He’s working hard in his new role as the newspaper’s “resident expert” on everything Louisville.

Not surprising a few weeks ago he became the latest CJ scribe to pile on former University of Louisville President Jim Ramsey, stating  that Ramsey “enriched himself at the expense of the students at UofL and the state of Kentucky.” He also questions the motivations of Tom Jurich in the same piece.

Gerth grew up in Louisville and graduated from the University of Louisville, majoring in communications. For someone who has covered politics for almost three decades, it is somewhat surprising that he has failed to acknowledge issues stemming from gubernatorial political appointments to the UofL Board of Trustees.

Or maybe it’s just that he chooses to ignore them. That would be the easier path for a writer at a publication that fancies itself to be a statewide newspaper. The CJ’s News side provides tons of coverage on UofL problems but only a bare minimum, usually wire coverage, on University of Kentucky issues — totally opposite to Sports coverage where equal coverage seems the goal.

Continue reading “Courier-Journal covers UofL and UK equally in sports, but hard news is another story”

Handmaker provides insight into Jim Ramsey’s compensation at UofL

Jim Ramsey and Junior Bridgeman during one of Ramsey’s final board meetings at UofL.

Somewhere in Florida, Jim Ramsey is catching up on his golf game, hopefully recovering from some of the controversy that surrounded his departure as President of the University of Louisville last year.

As she resigned, Margaret Handmaker provided some facts on issues affecting UofL’s efforts to fend off attempts by a competitor university to recruit Jim Ramsey away from Louisville.

Some additional perspective on Ramsey’s compensation at UofL was recently provided by Margaret Handmaker when she submitted her resignation from the UofL Foundation to Diane Medley, the new Chairman of the Foundation.

Ramsey was sharply criticized by some former members of the University Board of Trustees for what some believed was excessive remuneration. The annual compensation in his IRS returns between 2012 and 2014 was confusing because his reported income apparently included deferred payments.

The criticism, not surprisingly, came from Trustees who were not around when the University Board in 2005 adopted a Deferred Compensation Plan — a practice employed by universities to attract and retain key leaders through competitive levels of total compensation and deferred vesting.

Diane Medley recently assumed the chairmanship of the UofL Foundation. She’s also a member of the UofL Board of Trustees.

In her letter of resignation,Handmaker noted that the UofL Foundation would “be faced with a significant shortage of institutional memory” moving forward with a new Interim Executive Director, all new University Trustees, and all new UofL Foundation board members.

She also noted that “as with other complex boards, the  University relies on a committee structure to report information to the full board. Any suggestion that Trustees do not know what is going on at the Foundation is not well informed.”

She attached a memo in which she stated:

— “President Ramsey was recruited by the University of Tennessee, and the UofL Trustees felt strongly that they wanted to do “whatever it took” to keep him at the University of Louisville.

— “In discussions with President Ramsey, the Chair of the Trustees learned that the President did not want a higher salary, but a supplemental retirement benefit would be attractive to him.

— “Once again, the Trustees asked the Foundation to pay this benefit.

— “The same person chaired both the Board of Trustees and the Foundation Board (as was often the case), so the “ask” was a bit of a formality. The grant and the ultimate payout of the retention plan was reported in the Foundation’s IRS Form 990, which is available to the members of all boards and to the public.”

Kathleen Smith was a key member of Ramsey’s staff at the University while also overseeing Foundation activities.

Ramsey also came under attack for retention bonuses for some of his staff, including Kathleen Smith, who served his chief of staff at the University and for the UofL Foundation.

Handmaker notes in her memo that “when (the late) Chester Porter was chair of both boards, he said that it was critically important to discourage Kathleen Smith from electing early retirement. A retention plan for Kathleen was designed by Chester and implemented by the Foundation.” Smith was placed on paid leave last fall.

Handmaker was among four directors who resigned from a group that also included Dr. Salem George, Joyce Hagen, and Dr. William Selvidge. 

They were around when Jim Ramsey was in the midst of transforming the University from a commuter school to a member in full standing in the Atlantic Coast Conference, significant improvements in the GPA average of incoming freshmen and higher graduation rates, unprecedented growth in the University’s endowment, unparalleled growth of the physical campus and a boom in student housing.

They saw the best of times under Jim Ramsey and, in recent months, some of the most challenging days ever for UofL.