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.
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.
“The UofL board placed no restrictions on my opportunities to work with the Foundation,” he said. “A lot has happened over the last week but at the last meeting I was strongly encouraged by Foundation board members to stay.”
Ramsey has turned his personal focus to the development and funding of capital projects, including one that would be considered in the early stages of conception. He believes the 15 acres previously occupied by the silos on the eastern edge of the campus are ripe for development.
He indicated that a University conferencing and lodging center is among numerous ideas being discussed for the site. The center could be for hosting major University events and academic conferences on campus, as well as some Atlantic Coast Conference forums.
Among other ideas for the acreage is the possibility a new administration building for the athletic department. “It’s a 15-acre-plus site, so the location could probably accommodate other facilities,” he acknowledged.
“We think the site has great value, with 160,000 vehicles passing by the campus on I-65 every day. The right project could really be definitional for UofL in many ways. If it can pay for itself and contribute to the University’s mission, so much the better.”
Ramsey said his other top priority is the Belknap Engineering and Applied Science Research Park. Land has been cleared and new access roads have been added. “The Foundation is moving pretty quickly on the project,” he said, indicating that a request for funding with be submitted to the state in two weeks.
He explained that the focus of the Belknap project will be digital manufacturing, computer analytics, logistics and distribution, and renewable energy. “When I grew up in Louisville, General Electric employed about 26,000 people at Appliance Park,” he said. “Today GE employs about 6,000. We think we can grow manufacturing; it just has to be a different approach.”
Ramsey believes that the development projects on UofL’s Shelby Campus in East Louisville and the J.D. Nichols Campus downtown are progressing nicely. “We’re finishing our third building on Shelbyhurst and a second building downtown and it’s time to get moving on these other projects,” he said.
“These projects are integral to UofL’s commitment to becoming a premier metropolitan research University,” he said. “They are especially important in helping to offset the state budget cuts. We have had to deal with 16 budget cuts in 16 years.”
Ramsey said he had heard from some political leaders that the Foundation’s success in real estate development had created some resentment among some developers. But he noted that he was urged by other developers to aggressively pursue projects in the face of continuing budget cuts.
“The Foundation was asked by the University board of trustees several years ago to develop properties to offset the diminishing revenue from the state. Back when developers like Sandy Metts, Kevin Cogan and Steve Poe were on the board, they encouraged us to get into development to support our teaching and research missions.”
When he became UofL President in 2002, Ramsey said the chairman of the Foundation and the University boards were going in different directions. “The Foundation was formed in 1969 for the sole purpose of raising funds for the University of Louisville,” he commented. “I thought it best to have the same person in both positions. The Foundation should be doing what the University wants it to do.”
He said the ULF will transfer $149 million to the University this year, as compared to $132 million from the state.
“I feel good about what we have achieved at UofL,” he said. “There’s been a lot of divide in recent years, and I was willing to step aside. It’s important now that the University and the community come together.”
He may have submitted his resignation as UofL President, but there’s no quit in Jim Ramsey when it comes to the research mission.