New President describes UofL as diamond in the rough

“I really believe the best days for the University of Louisville are yet to come. I have no doubt in my mind or I wouldn’t be here.”

The 18th President of UofL, Dr. Neeli Bendapudi, responded enthusiastically when she was asked about taking over a university that has had more than its share of issues over the past two years. 

“And that’s not because of any magic I will bring, or any secret sauce I bring, but I believe in the people here. Our location is unbeatable. We can be such an attractive. I mean, come on, the food, the music, the arts scene, the sports, we have it all. I think it’s a thriving environment, I think it’s a fabulous university, with the calibre of our faculty, our staff and our students.

“Will it be challenging? Probably. But I have talked to a few, very loyal alumni, who are eager to say, ‘How can we help? What can we do?’ So I’m very enthused about the opportunity.

In response to a question about dwindling state funding, Dr. Bendapudi said, “I think that’s a concern of all public universities. Legislators face great pressures so it’s our job to articulate why investment in higher education is one of the best things any region can do for economic development. When you think of what attracts employers, what creates a tax base. Quite frankly, it’s access to talent. Our environment as an urban university positions us uniquely and I have complete confidence that this Legislature and this Governor wants to see the University of Louisville strong and thriving after the period of uncertainty we went through.”

As for past scandals, she said the way to avoid them is a) to set the tone. Culture is what you tolerate. We want to protect the University of Louisville and the Cardinals for the long term. That is the best way to succeed. The second way is to be incredibly accessible to students, faculty and staff. The leader cannot be everywhere but the leader can absolutely set the tone for who we are, what we want to be and what we will not tolerate.”

She also complimented the UofL Board of Trustees, describing it as an exceptional board, the commitment, the care, the calibre of oversight they will bring. “I am very confident that they do not want to do anything that hurts the university. We owe it to our student, our staff, our faculty and certainly to our alumni.”

Quite an outstanding first impression from an accomplished individual and academic who says she plans to be at UofL for the long term. She’s really good with those L signs, too.

Welcome to UofL, Dr. Bendapudi. 


Jim Ramsey tackles toughies head on at University of Louisville

Predictably Jim Ramsey is in the crosshairs of some angry University of Louisville fans for inflicting a self-imposed post-season ban on the basketball program. Some calling for him to be fired, believing his actions were premature and overreactive.

As good as Ramsey has been for the University, the man has earned the right to be respected for seeking to resolve a very difficult situation. The healing had to begin at some point, the sooner the better.

Jim Ramsey
Jim Ramsey

The full results of the investigation won’t be known for several months. Ramsey is the person charged with the school’s overall well-being. As the chief executive, he is expected to make the hard decisions. Having seen the facts, he had no choice but to follow through on his instincts. That’s what leaders are expected to do.

The athletic program has been a great source of pride for Ramsey, as has the school’s impressive academic and facilities growth in his 13-year tenure, in which the endowment surpassed $1 billion for the first time.  He is a hands-on leader, loving the work, treasuring the University, taking it to new heights. He has always been highly visible across campus and at athletic events.

He may made a few mistakes, and others have made mistakes that reflect upon his leadership. But that comes with the job. Fortunately, he has some thick skin, able to absorb criticism while still enabling the University to achieve one milestone after another.

The decision to self-impose a ban on post-season tournament had to be extremely difficult for him. But there should be little doubt that he is doing what he believes is best for the long-term future of the University. That is his job, after all, and he’s done it well. Rushing to judgement to condemn Jim Ramsey when he’s the person best informed of what actually happened in the basketball controversy is foolish.

Whether or not he decides to stick around with all the chaos that will occur over the next few weeks and months, Ramsey has embraced his leadership role in ways never before imagined by the community. He has set the standard for leadership at UofL that his successors can only hope to emulate.

Louisville survives initial wave, Russ Smith puts SMU away

Fired up to insane levels, those 7,000 fans in the Moody Coliseum, some of them proclaiming it to be greatest game ever for the Southern Methodist basketball program, matching two top 20 teams.

Attracting Texas heavyweight fans, former President George W. Bush, first lady Laura Bush, first daughter Jenna Bush, Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, along with former quarterback Troy Aikman, and Michael Finley, formerly of the San Antonio Spurs. A boisterous and intimidating atmosphere for the University of Louisville basketball team.

Not surprisingly Southern Methodist was 15-0 at home going into game, with decisive wins over Memphis, Cincinnati and UConn. And as Rick Pitino noted after UofL’s 84-71 win, the home crowd can be more than a little nasty.

Coached by Hall of Famer Larry Brown, SMU was feeding on the frenzy and thirsting for a major upset. They were destined to get off to one of those unbelievable starts — and they did. The only question was how UofL would respond to the assault, whether this team, fresh from a loss at Memphis, would be able to fight its way back into the game or just get out of the way.

The Mustangs would stampede to a 26-12, rearing up for the knockout kick, get on down the road. Then a funny thing happened. UofL began hitting free throws — Montrelz Harrell, two for two, Russ Smith, two for two, and Chris Jones, two for two — with a Luke Hancock three-pointer sandwiched between the free throw line trips.

Hancock would add another three, Jones a three, and all a sudden Louisville owned a 27-26 lead after a miraculous three and a half minutes. The aforementioned question had been answered. Chris Jones, glad to get out of Memphis again, would score 13 of his 21 points during the first half, providing the offensive leadership Louisville needed to own a wide-eyed 32-30 lead at the half.

The other question to be answered was whether UofL could protect a lead over a ranked team, especially on the road, especially after one of the ugliest game starts in recent memory, during a season in which they had fizzled too often at clutch time.

Russ Smith would answer that question almost singlehandedly, scoring 22 of his 26 points after halftime, including six three-pointers.  He would hit three straight threes right after his alley-oop pass on the go-ahead dunk by Montrezl Harrell midway through the second half.

Each of his shots more incredulous than the last, tossing daggers from every conceivable angle, some of them ill-advised if Russ Smith wasn’t the one making them. UofL needing every single one of those shots to finally stifle the Mustangs. But at the end, Russ was throwing up on the sideline, fortunately into a trash can, admitting that the sight of his vomit made the situation even more volatile for him.

The final blow, this one for the fans, was delivered by Montrelz Harrell, raising his game total to 19 points, with another thunderous dunk just before the horn. The SMU fans, still hanging around, still making noise, unwilling to graciously accept the exclamation point, their partying reduced to booing at the end.

White House honors national champ

team2The United States government officially recognized the University of Louisville basketball team Tuesday at the White House for winning the 2013 NCAA national championship, with President Obama presiding over the ceremony. Coach Rick Pitino presented the President with a UofL No. 1 jersey and a commemorative Louisville Slugger baseball bat. The President actually fessed up that he had picked another team, underestimating UofL’s commitment, but he’s looking forward to a possible return visit from the Cardinals.