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.

Bevin to introduce UofL board members Tuesday

Matt Bevin wasted little time in getting enabling legislation passed, and prepares to announce new UofL trustees.

Governor Matt Bevin has his 10 names for the newest University of Louisville Board of Trustees, wants to get everything lined up, and will announce the appointees on Tuesday.

Keep thine fingers crossed that he has the right people and the board is motivated and ready to go. Tons of ground to make up. And hope that the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) becomes just another acronym.

A SACS executive said this week that “it appears” state lawmakers “are working to address the concerns” that landed the university on probation.

Accrediting group ignores dysfunction on University of Louisville board

Members of the current University of Louisville Board of Trustees didn’t need to show up for the board meeting scheduled for Thursday morning. Nor for any other meetings in the future for that matter.

The board meeting was cancelled, along with with the finance meeting, and the individuals serving as board members have effectively been removed. The second time in a year they have been relieved, this time for keeps.

Gov. Matt Bevin with Junior Bridgeman, who chaired the new board (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

With urging from Governor Matt Bevin, the Kentucky Legislature has passed legislation effectively abolishing the current board and the one that temporarily replaced it last year. The Governor really had no choice because the squabbling had continued and led to the school being placed on accreditation probation.

The current board was unable to conduct a search for a new President because of a settlement of lawsuit challenging the minority composition. Former Governor Steve Beshear had ignored racial and political guidelines, making the board effectively illegal, creating major conflicts while also ousting former President Jim Ramsey.

State Representative Jerry Miller (R-Louisville), who chaired a hearing on House Bill 12 on new procedures, believes the legislation will get UofL off probation as quickly as possible. In a communication to this constituents, Miller wrote, “the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) has never questioned the power of legislatures to act in such matters. SB 12 does the following:

  • Addresses the probation status.
  • A newly established board will be transferred powers, ensuring the University will not go without a board of trustees.
  • The Council on Postsecondary Education’s Nominating Committee will be required to submit 30 nominations, from which Gov. Bevin must appoint 10.
  • Requires Senate confirmation of all appointments to the board, (SACS was surprised KY didn’t require this already), sets terms for members, specifies how to determine proportional minority representation on the boards and provides procedures for vacancies.”

Some faculty and student leaders had suggested that the Governor’s best course of action over time would have been to appoint seven Republican members, including two minority members.

Not an option since the terms of at least three of the more contentious members of the existing board did not expire until 2019 or later. Too many venom between board segments. Communications were strained and no significant action was possible. Similar circumstances over the past three years made the board dysfunctional.

These circumstances have been given short shrift by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), ignoring the rancor that existed, choosing to focus on Governor Bevin, accusing him of removing the board without due process. The reality was that the only options available to Bevin was to let a bad situation continue to fester or to take decisive action on behalf of the University.

By ignoring the reality of the situation and placing the institution on probation, SACS has clumsily embarrassed the University and damaged the school’s reputation.  Further, SACS has exposed itself as an association influenced by political ideology and political posturing.

A real concern is that SACS may have relied more heavily on media coverage in the Courier-Journal than independently investigating the situation or interviewing board members and other affected parties. The organization has ignored the negative impact of the actions of the previous Governor, Steve Beshear, who consistently violated guidelines on board appointments, willfully disrespecting the process and ensuring conflict.

SACS should be fair and accountable to the 22,000-plus students, faculty and staff at the University of Louisville, and the even larger number of alumni, and their families, respecting all that had gone into putting UofL on an unprecedented trajectory. The Governor and the Legislature have taken the appropriate steps on behalf of the University, and those actions should be recognized and respected.

The hits keep coming but milestones never stop at University of Louisville

The University of Louisville is under attack on so many fronts that some of us are becoming hardened to the accusations, skeptical of the sources. Some unbelievable accusations have surfaced, and they never seem to go away. 

Any more bad news out there? Cough it up and clear the air. Only three more weeks before 2016 becomes history. What a crappy year in so many ways.

— Jim Ramsey, the former UofL President, accused of administrative irregularities in a state audit of the UofL Foundation. That would be the same Jim Ramsey who is credited for the unprecedented growth of the University over the past decade. 

— The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools placing UofL’s accreditation on probation for a year for actions taken by Governor Bevin in attempting to replace the current members of the Board of Trustees. Why the organization would threaten the school’s accreditation for any reason other than academic reasons defies any logic. No surprise, however, given the ideology of members governing the Southern Association.

— Governor Bevin, ignoring the Southern Association’s action, indicating that he will attempt to change state law during the 2017 legislation session to justify his action. A dangerous precedent if he is successful, allowing future Governors to replace board members at will, possibly putting the University’s very existence at risk in a state where little love is lost on UofL.

Few people in America more noble or better positioned than sportswriters to address sins and shortcomings.

— The never-ending probe of the UofL basketball program following revelations that former player and assistant coach had been sponsoring stripper parties and sexual favors for players. Once a program is accused, the NCAA’s review process drags on forever, with no consistency in how cases are handled and punishments are administered.

— The latest embarrassment, the admission of a Wake Forest radio football analyst that he had provided game plan information to opposing teams, including UofL. Louisville, unfortunately, was where information was uncovered exposing the individual, exposing UofL to criticism from the talking heads and saintly sports columnists like Tim Sullivan.

The lowest of low points, being lectured by the scribes. Few people in America more noble or better positioned than sportswriters to address sins and shortcomings. Who’s to question their qualifications? A terrible profession when success is often defined by how many people hate you.

Quite a tumble from the glory years, particular from the Year of the Cardinal in 2013 when the University of Louisville could do no wrong. Distant memories for now.

The Lamar Jackson success story, the first UofL football player to ever win the Heisman Award, providing a brief reprieve from the torrent of bad news. But also serving as a reminder that many great things will continue to happen at UofL.

Overcoming hard times is part of being an advocate for the University of Louisville. Fans and supporters of UofL have had to weather more than their share of adversity over the decades.

They’ve grown accustomed to being targeted by neighboring fans, by a local newspaper that claims to be a state newspaper at the expense of the local school, and by the growing pains that occur when a school is ambitious. Predictably the University of Louisville always gets stronger and better, achieving unprecedented milestones while eyeing even more challenging goals.

Always been that way. It will never change. 

Gov. Bevin needs to clean up after Beshear at UofL

Governor Matt Bevin
Governor Matt Bevin

The University of Louisville community is waiting, Matt Bevin. You need to act … and act soon.

Time for the current Governor of Kentucky to end the stalemate that has been become the UofL Board of Trustees (BOT). Time to undo another mess created by your predecessor Steve Beshear.

Time to shake up the status quo, separate the well-intended from the ill-intended, time to replace suspected vengeful trustees with individuals who are unquestionably committed to the University’s success.

The most recent drama occurring Thursday when three members of the Finance Committee blocked a vote on the University budget. The increase is consistent with the 5% tuition increases at all state universities. If these concerns had been legitimate, they wouldn’t be bringing them up at the last minute.

Time for you to go ahead and appoint new minority members to the board to bring the BOT in compliance, hopefully replacing the last three individuals appointed by Beshear — Larry Benz (current chairman), Paul Diaz and Larry Hayes — as part of the former Governor’s effort to weaken the arrangement between the University and the UofL Foundation.

And while you’re at it, you may want to invite at least three other members — Craig Greenberg, Steve Campbell and Emily Bingham — to pursue other interests as well. Their only interest at present appears to be dumping the most successful administrator in the University’s history.

What Beshear’s most recent appointments also seem to have in common is relationships with former Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson and a shared desire to micromanage the future of the University. They’re aided by bootlicking scribes at the Courier-Journal and WDRB who apparently only see one side of any issue. Research? History? Objectivity? What’s that?

Jim Ramsey’s No. 1 priority is UofL’s well-being, making phenomenal improvements in academics, physical facilities, athletics and endowment since he became President in 2001. If at times he seems to shortcut the bureaucracy, it is because he is results-oriented, highly effective in making positive things happen.

The in-fighting on the Board of Trustees is not good for the University, potentially impacting every student, employee and faculty member, as well as the entire community. The future of the University hangs in the balance, affecting every department and aspect of the institution. And the negative impact extends far beyond Louisville Metro’s borders.

Decisive action is needed, Matt Bevin. The sooner the better.