One step forward for UofL Trustees, another step back

Acting President Neville Pinto is flanked by board members Doug Hall and Larry Benz.
Acting President Neville Pinto is flanked by board members Doug Hall and Larry Benz.

Some good things occurred at the specially-called meeting of the “old” Board of Trustees of the University of Louisville on Thursday. The gut feeling from this observer, however, was that more than a little ill will was simmering beneath the surface.

The board approved a $548.3 million budget, which included a 5% tuition increase while allowing student who complete 30 hours of credit to receive a 5% credit to be applied to the following year’s tuition.  As a concession to some board members, however, the budget included a freeze on tuition for the 2017-18 budget.  A finance subcommittee had earlier rejected the proposed tuition increase in the current budget.

Acting President Neville Pinto reported that student enrollment at UofL will be approximately 21,500 for the fall semester. The figure includes 2,900 incoming freshmen with an ACT test score average of 25.5 and a cumulative high school grade point average of 3.6, with 465 of them qualifying for the honors program.

The meeting ended on a down note when Chairman Larry Benz reported that he has yet to obtain information about a $38 million loan from the University to the UofL Foundation without board approvals.

Jason Tomlinson, chief financial officer for the Foundation, has described the loan as a “receivable agreement,” benefitting both the University and the Foundation. Specifically, the loan was made to the UofL Real Estate Foundation, an arm of the Foundation.

“It was all done to benefit the university,” he told WDRB TV.

Benz, the on-again, off-again Chairman, wants to see the records himself, not trusting the previous administration, continuing to add to the friction between the various factions.

Here’s a video of the board meeting, excluding the closed sessions for litigation and personnel issues

*    *    *

A recent Courier-Journal story reporting that new offices were being created for former President Jim Ramsey and Chief of Staff Kathleen Smith at the UofL Foundation was in error.

That’s according to Ms. Smith, who reported that the offices were for current Foundation staffers David James, Jake Robertson and David Adams.

The CJ story also suggested that board approval was required for office preparations. That would be a first for most organizations and businesses.

*   *   *

Andrew Wolfson, who covers the University of Louisville for the CJ, has a son who attends UofL.

Adversity takes back seat to Jurich at University of Louisville

When he’s announcing a contract extension for one of his coaches, Tom Jurich often says he likes to judge people on how they handle adversity. The University of Louisville athletic director has been quite adept at negotiating through tough times himself lately.

At the Bobby Petrino press conference,  Jurich said he was most impressed with how Petrino handled himself when his team was 0-3 at the beginning of the 2015 season.

Tom Jurich and Matt Thornton at ribbon cutting for the Thornton's Academic Center for Excellence.
Tom Jurich and Matt Thornton at ribbon cutting for the Thornton’s Academic Center for Excellence.

“We were winless and the ship could have gone in a much different direction,” said Jurich. “Bobby kept everybody together, kept the kids’ heads raised up high, with great attitudes, and we finished very strong, beating Texas A&M in that bowl game. I really look to evaluate people when the chips are down.”

Like when there seems to be a dark cloud hovering over Belknap Campus for a while now. A time that creates uncertainty on many fronts, that would not surprisingly pose a severe test of loyalty from an individual as highly respected as Tom Jurich nationally.

The local newspaper, knowing UofL is popular with its readers, has become predictable lately, posting any and all bad news about UofL on the front page.  Issues like a dysfunctional board of trustees. the dumping of one board for another, employee thefts and lawsuits, the NCAA investigation of the basketball program, the state audit of the UofL Foundation, a President who defied the media and was forced to resign, and, most recently, the announcement of IRS investigations.

Continue reading “Adversity takes back seat to Jurich at University of Louisville”

Jim Ramsey still wants to help University of Louisville achieve research mission

Submitting his resignation as President of the University of Louisville had to be the hardest thing Jim Ramsey has ever done, considering the phenomenal growth that occurred at UofL during his 14 years at the helm.

The Louisville native told this observer that he wants to continue to work with individuals and community organizations which share his aspirations for the University, wanting very much to see UofL’s trajectory continue spiraling upwards.

Jim Ramsey sharpens focus on development at UofL Foundation.
Jim Ramsey sharpens focus on development at UofL Foundation.

He’s confident UofL is in good hands with Neville Pinto filling the vacuum as Acting President. “Dr. Pinto is a strong, proven academic leader, and did an exceptional job as the Dean of Speed School and as the Acting Provost,” he said.

Ramsey said he will miss the day-to-day interaction with UofL students, staff and faculty, but wants to continue supporting the University in meaningful ways. He hopes that by continuing as President of the University of Louisville Foundation, he can contribute to UofL achieving its mission as a premier metropolitan research university.

Continue reading “Jim Ramsey still wants to help University of Louisville achieve research mission”

Judge’s order no surprise to an amused Jim Ramsey

Jim Ramsey is going over some notes with his administrative assistant in the University of Louisville Foundation offices Friday morning when they are interrupted by the messenger.

Back at work before heading off for some R&R.
Back at work before heading off for some R&R.

“Have you heard the news yet?”

“I haven’t heard anything,” says Ramsey. “You mean about the court?”

“The judge has issued the injunction …”

A smile crosses Ramsey’s face, followed by spontaneous laughter. “So this board is prohibited from doing anything?”

That’s exactly what it means, the decision by Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd granting an injunction to Attorney General Andrew Beshear. The decision places Gov. Matt Bevin’s order restructuring the UofL Board of Trustees in legal limbo.

“Are you kidding me?” says Ramsey. “I know the judge and I am not surprised. This board was in a hurry to meet before the judge acted.”

Whether Ramsey’s resignation as President to the new board is final is anyone’s guess. The only thing certain is that there will be further judicial proceedings before anything is settled.

And, believe it or not, Ramsey actually had seven days from the day he signed the agreement to change his mind and rescind the agreement if he so chose.

If the courts declared Bevin’s order null and void, he could face the possibility of going back to work for the old board. Not likely that he would want to resign twice, or give some of the original trustees the satisfaction of seeing that happen.

Since his “resignation” on Wednesday, Ramsey has turned his full attention to the University of Louisville Foundation.  He intends to retain his position as ULF President, continuing to raise funds in support of the University.

For the time being, however, he intends to get some rest and relaxation. He and Jane Ramsey are heading out this weekend with the family for seven days at a resort in North Carolina.

“It will be good to get away for a few days,” he says in the understatement of the week.

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.