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.
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.