Jim Ramsey’s legacy at UofL will dwarf the distractions

The Thinker is more alone today than ever on his perch in front of Grawemeyer Hall.

Jim Ramsey earned and deserved a farewell tour over the next academic year as President at the University of Louisville. But after six hours of negotiations on Wednesday, his offer to resign was accepted, effective immediately.

Jim Ramsey at last board meeting.
Jim Ramsey enters his final UofL board meeting.

The Jim Ramsey era, from 2002 to 2016, will be remembered as a time of unprecedented growth for the University. Great strides in all areas of endeavor, including academic, athletic, student enrollment, graduation rates, and physical facilities.

Under his guidance, the school experienced a metamorphosis of mammoth proportions, transforming from a small sleepy aging commuter school to a dynamic campus attracting thousands of campus residents. This was accompanied by beautification efforts that left no area untouched, ranging from the restoration of The Thinker to the addition of striking new entrances on all sides of the campus.

Jim Ramsey may have done his job too well to suit some people, some of them threatened by UofL’s incredible advancements. Among them Steve Beshear, the former Governor, who ignored laws concerning university boards, placing donors on the board who had questionable loyalties to UofL.

Among the board members were some developers who resented the competition from the University, which was expanding in South Louisville, on the downtown medical campus and on the Shelby Campus in the East End. This along with plans for a major research park in an area adjoining the Speed School and Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.

Born and raised in Louisville, Ramsey was a leader with inexhaustible energy, dedicated to the University, totally driven in desire to take UofL to plateaus that would have been unimaginable 20 years ago. The legacy will continue to grow and flourish long after the President cleans out his desk on Thursday.

Coincidental to all the progress at UofL in recent years came some troubling issues that were neither his fault or remotely under his control. Trusted individuals helping themselves to federal grant monies, blackening the eye of the University, time and time again it seemed, tainting the administration.

A local newspaper fixated on the negative. Old money people wanting to exert their influence on a growing university. Developers resenting the University’s growth. Gubernatorial appointments clearly designed to create division on the board. The controversy continued to grow, eventually overshadowing all the good that had been accomplished.

Governor Matt Bevin forced to dismiss an entire Board of Trustees. Attorney General Andy Beshear filing a lawsuit to declare the appointments illegal and, in the process, leading to a circus atmosphere, creating uncertainty. The new board concluding that Jim Ramsey was becoming a magnet for controversy and that a new beginning was best for the University.

Jim Ramsey should have been riding on the shoulders of appreciative UofL alumni and supporters as he departed the campus on Wednesday. He leaves behind a legacy of accomplishments and respect that will be difficult to match. He also leaves a strong foundation that will make it possible for his successor to envision achieving the goal of becoming one of the nation’s premier metropolitan research universities.

Jim Ramsey was well on his way to making that happen.

 

 

Bridgeman: No discussions with Ramsey about his future at UofL

The nightmare continues for University of Louisville supporters, with little promise of the drama going away anytime soon.

The newly-appointed UofL Board of Trustees named by Gov. Matt Bevin last month is getting off to a slow start, taking its time to review the proposed budget and the future of President Jim Ramsey.

Junior Bridgeman in no hurry.
Junior Bridgeman in no hurry.

About halfway through a presentation on a $1.3 billion proposal Thursday, Chairman Junior Bridgeman surprisingly stated the the board would not be approving the budget. He indicated that a committee composed of board members would “dive deeper” into the budget before arriving at any conclusions.

Bridgeman also indicated that the Board of Trustees has not had any discussions with Ramsey about his future, though he had offered to resign during the previous meeting. “That’s a major issue, but we have other issues to discuss as well,” he said. “We hope to resolve the matter at our next board meeting.”

Jim Ramsey in no hurry either. (Photo by Cindy Rice Shelton)
Jim Ramsey in no hurry either. (Photo by Cindy Rice Shelton)

The chairman would not disclose how he was leaning, saying it was the board that would make the final decision on Jim Ramsey’s future at UofL.

As for the budget issue, it was unclear whether Bridgeman made the budget decision based on the presentation or whether he was reacting to complaints from a student and her mother who interrupted the meeting several times, protesting a proposed 5% increase in tuition.

Bridgeman was noncommittal after the meeting, indicating that he thought that dialogue with students was healthy. “That’s what a university is about,” he said. “It’s about open discussion, open thinking, the exchange of ideas, debating different ideas. If you’re not happy with something that going on, it provides a forum to address that.”

The chairman was being too kind, ignoring the disruptive nature of the feedback. The criticism appeared premature, the students calling the Bevin appointments illegal while assuming the board had already decided to approve the budget.

He promised students, however, that they would be invited to make comments during the committee meeting on the budget.

UofL supporters can only hope that the current board is allowed to continue to do its work. If a Franklin Court judge issues an injunction, the old members will be back, ensuring continuing chaos well into the future.

Jim Ramsey remains behind President’s desk at UofL

Jim Ramsey continued to preside as President of the University of Louisville following the first meeting of the new Board of Trustees on Wednesday. The new members not sensing any need to make any immediate change.

Jim Ramsey still in charge.
Jim Ramsey still in charge at UofL. (All photos by Cindy Rice Shelton.)

That was disappointing to a couple of people — Andrew Wolfson of the Courier-Journal and Chris Otts of WDRB-TV — who have been beating the media drums for a couple of years in support of recalcitrant members of the old board dismissed by Gov. Matt Bevin.

Wolfson and Otts, attempting to make news instead of reporting it, were taken aback that Ramsey was still around following a closed session on personnel. They sought to turn the private session into a violation of the open meetings law, threatening to have a court seek video or notes from the session.

Junior Bridgeman, who was elected Chairman of the Board, wasn’t taking the bait. “You can vilify me tomorrow,” he said. “We discussed a number of things with Dr. Ramsey but we did not agree to anything.”

There apparently was no discussion of Ramsey’s future. Nor did there need to be since board members were already aware of his offer to resign from his position if the board wanted him to leave.

“We felt like we needed to analyze things a little bit more since everybody is new,” said Bridgeman. “He’s willing to do whatever the board wants him to do.”

Gov. Bevin was on hand for the first meeting, thanking the members for serving, describing the board as capable of running any corporation in the country.

“I have already received and accepted his resignation and I think that speaks for itself. And I think the timing of that as he has said, he’s willing to stand down within a day or whatever period of time the board determines,” Bevin said. “I defer to their judgement. They will collectively decide.”

Bridgeman noted that other personnel issues, as well as litigation matters, were discussed during the closed session. Whether the law was violated or not is of little consequence and any repercussions would be minimal.

Just a couple of wimpy reporters, disappointed, wanting to sound tough, not getting their way again. Jim Ramsey heads back to his office continuing to preside over the University of Louisville.

UofL twists in the wind, waiting on decisions

As we near the halfway point in the Summer of 2016, there are some major uncertainties leaving the University of Louisville twisting in the wind. Very unsettling for UofL supporters who deserve better.

Responsible leaders at the University and in Frankfort have made all the right moves but the ultimate outcomes lie in the hands of others. Alumni and fans are forced to wait patiently.

Screen Shot 2016-07-05 at 12.42.05 PMThe most pressing issue, of course, is who will lead the university. Governor Matt Bevin has dismissed the old Board of Trustees, which had become a deterrent due to his predecessor’s appointments. Bevin replaced 10 of them with civic and business leaders with no agenda other than to get the University back on course.

But Attorney General Andy Beshear, son of Steve Beshear, has chosen to proceed along his father’s pernicious path, challenging Bevin’s appointments in court. This unnecessarily drags out the process, making administrative decisions more difficult, and potentially exposing UofL to even more damage from political appointments in the judicial system.

Jim Ramsey, meanwhile, continues as President, doing what he does best, expanding the school in every direction one looks. While he intends to offer his resignation to the new Board of Trustees, he also has indicated he would be willing to stick around for at least another academic year.

The other big issue for the University is what punishment will be administered to the basketball program, the most profitable college basketball program in the country. UofL has admitted guilt, self-imposing a ban at the end of the 2016 season, reducing a couple of scholarships while giving up recruiting opportunities.

The investigation appeared to end about three months ago but there has been no word from the NCAA. No notice of allegations and no hint of when they will be announced. This keeps the program in a state of uncertainty, making it difficult for Coach Rick Pitino to put the issue behind him.

Another round of discomfiture lies ahead for UofL fans, with the repetitious and embarrassing allegations, the finger-pointing from the Calipari bootlickers, the inevitable herd mentality of the media, and the moralizing of sanctimonious sportswriters.

A far cry from a couple of years ago when the University was riding a crest of unprecedented physical and academic development, achieving a billion dollar endowment, celebrating its entrance into the prestigious Atlantic Coast Conference, and savoring a third national championship in basketball.

Every year can’t be the Year of the Cardinal obviously. There are going to be some down years, some with more pitfalls than others. But this is one of the worst thus far, with the harassment of President Jim Ramsey,  the deterioration of the board, and a premature end to the basketball season. A baseball team destined for greatness blows a three-run lead in the bottom on the ninth inning. Not a good year.

The University community will ultimately be stronger for the experience, surviving and building on a series of events testing the resolve of everyone associated with the school. The board will have rid itself of some individuals who had little loyalty and some questionable motives. Jim Ramsey, hopefully, will have at least another year, helping with the transition to new leadership. And unless something new has surfaced in the NCAA investigations, Pitino can focus again on winning another national title.

The dark cloud that has hovered over Belknap Campus will find another institution to shadow. As unseemly as some of the events of the past year may appear to be, UofL loyalists have seen worst, including years of stagnant growth, directionless leadership and lack of support from state government.

The University of Louisville, despite the recent blowback, will be more strongly positioned than ever to build on the unprecedented success of the past decade. The hardest part is waiting for all the drama to be done.

New UofL board includes long-time heavy hitters

David Grissom tops list of heavy hitters.
David Grissom tops list of heavy hitters.

David Grissom tops the list in an all-star lineup of individuals appointed to the new University of Louisville Board of Trustees by Governor Matt Bevin this week.

Grissom, who obtained his law degree from UofL, has long been among the power brokers in Louisville, having served as chairman and CEO of Citizens Fidelity Bank & Trust, vice president of PNC Corporation, and executive vice president of Humana.

Name any leading company or institution in the region and there’s a good chance Grissom has served on the board, including Churchill Downs, LG&E, Yum! Brands, and Centre College (where he earned his undergraduate degree). He currently manages the Glenview Trust Company, the largest independent trust company in Kentucky.

John Schnatter a long-time donor.
John Schnatter a long-time donor.

John Schnatter— The founder and CEO of Papa John’s Pizza and a major benefactor for Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. His name is also on the John H. Schnatter Center for Free Enterprise at the U of L College of Business.

Schnatter is a graduate of Ball State, but his wife Annette and grandfather Louis Ackerson are UofL alumni. His brother Chuck, daughter Kristine and two uncles are all graduates of the Brandeis School of Law.
 

Sandra Frazier from a family of strong UofL supporters
Sandra Frazier hails from a family of strong UofL supporters

Sandra Frazier — Comes from an old Louisville family that has been very generous to UofL for decades. Her father was the late Harry Frazier and her grandmother was Mary Frazier, a legendary benefactor. Her uncle was none other than the late Owsley B. Frazier, who gave $25 million to UofL shortly before he passed in 2012. She owns Tandem Communications and serves with Grissom on the Glenview Trust board. She earned an undergraduate degree from Hollins University and a master’s degree in mass communications from Boston University.

Junior Bridgeman — Among the best to ever play basketball at the UofL, he funneled his NBA money into fast food investments, raising his net worth to between $250 million and $400 million, according to Fortune Magazine. He was chosen by Gov. Bevin to head the transition team for the board after the old one was removed.

Dale Boden –President of BF Properties, one of the largest property owners in Jefferson County with approximately a million square feet of office and multifamily properties. He’s a UK graduate and has served on the Board of Advisors to UofL’s College of Business and the UofL Board of Overseers.

Nitin Sahney — Former President and Chief Executive Officer of Omnicare, Inc., and has served as President, Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of RxCrossroads. Vast experience in the healthcare field which should be helpful with University Hospital challenges. He’s a graduate of Punjab University in Chandigarh, India.

Douglass Cobb — Former President of Greater Louisville, Inc., he was Managing Director of Chrysalis, a venture capital firm.  He also was the Founder and CEO of The Cobb Group, publisher of newsletters for personal computer users, which was sold to publisher Ziff-Davis. He’s a graduate of Williams College in Massachusetts.

Bonita Black — Manages Steptoe & Johnson’s Louisville office, focusing on corporate law, including mergers and acquisitions and divestitures, and corporate, structured, and municipal finance law.  Previously worked with Frost Brown & Todd and LG&E. She obtained her law degree from Harvard and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky.

Dr. Ron Wright — An obstetrician-gynecologist in Jeffersonville. He is affiliated with Clark Memorial Hospital. He received his medical degree from University of Louisville School of Medicine. Worked with Bridgeman and Black on the UofL transition team.

Diane Medley — A native of Meade County, earning her degree in commerce from UofL. She co-founded Chilton & Medley Accounting in 1988 and Mountjoy Chilton Medley LLP in 2010. Today the firm is the 82nd largest financial services firm in the US She is currently the only female managing partner in the top 100 accounting firms in the US.

UofL President Jim Ramsey, who has to be ecstatic about the composition of the new board, issued the following statement:

“We appreciate Governor Bevin’s appointment of the new board. I have met with the three interim board members as well as the faculty, student and staff representatives and I plan to meet with the additional board members soon. I look forward to working with this new board as we move the university forward.”