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.
Large segments of the floor have already been removed, a sign near the entrance encourages fans to go an online auction, and Crawford Gym is host to a going-away party.
Darrell Griffith is there, along with dozens of former University of Louisville basketball players. Among them Philip Bond, Jerry Eaves, Wiley Brown, Roger Burkman, Mike Grosso, Robbie Valentine, just to name a few. Manuel Forrest is there, too, cutting snippets of the nets down for teammates and fans.
Denny Crum, Bill Olson and Jerry Jones, among the former coaches on hand, Denny autographing small segments of the floor to raise money for the UofL scholarship fund in his name, sharing memories of the old days on the Jerry Eaves radio show.
Crum admitting at one point that he thought he might have made a mistake after seeing Crawford Gym for the first time. “What we lacked in facilities, however, we made up for in enthusiasm and a love for basketball,” he said. “The kids didn’t care if the gym was outdated or stinking hot, they just wanted to play basketball.”
Crawford Gym, which was constructed in 1964, became a reality after a gift of $467,000 was made from the estate of Matthew Crawford by his sister Kate Crawford and Jennie Hanks, with additional money from the city.
The facility included two regulation-size maple basketball courts, which were also used for volleyball, gymnastics and intramurals. It was lighted by 64 mercury-vapor lights. The roof was the first elliptical paraboloid in the midwest, a type of roof eliminating supporting posts. There was never any air conditioning.
Crawford Gym will be coming down later this month, making way for a much-needed multi-million-dollar instructional facility.
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.
“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.
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.
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.