By Dr. Bob Hughes
Editor’s Note: Dr. Bob Hughes is former Chairman and a current member of the University of Louisville Board of Trustees. His post, discussing some the issues affecting the board, is exclusive to Card Game.
I deeply regret the embarrassment that the actions of a handful of trustees and their followers have brought upon alumni of the University of Louisville and to the community at large. This was a very disappointing week for UofL and for the people that cherish the university.
Among the highest responsibilities of individuals who serve on boards of directors is advancing the best interests of the organization quietly and collegially while doing nothing that would embarrass the business or institution. When it comes time that you can no longer serve as a positive ambassador for the entity or if you disagree with the direction it is moving in, then you should resign as a Trustee. Unfortunately, UofL has a few Trustees and their followers who are more intent on pursuing their own agenda — regardless of the expense to the school or the damage to its reputation.
A trustees’ meeting was thrown into chaos on Tuesday when one member called for a vote of no confidence in President Jim Ramsey. This was at a meeting that was called to update the board on legal affairs only. If that was all that the meeting was for, then why were there so many TV trucks there in advance and why were they reading from prepared scripts? The motion was inappropriate at that meeting and was out of order thus making it illegal. The Chairman should have immediately ruled the motion out of order and put a stop to it.
The disruption was allowed to continue for a select few who seemed to have no regard for the damage being done to the university and little appreciation for decorum in university oversight and governance. They were reading from prepared statements, and had apparently been planning this for some time. These were unprofessional antics that were totally out of place and an embarrassment to everyone at the meeting, including the initiators of the attack.
The most recent activity is consistent with a continuing series of personal attacks on Dr. Ramsey. The attempted ambush was neither appropriate nor fair. It was a gesture without legal merit, and the criticisms were not performance based according to his contract and job description. They were only a collection of their opinions attempting to coalesce into something which made sense. It didn’t.
These problems of the Board of Trustees began in 2013 with a core group from a zip code in the east end. This group has been relentless in pushing forward with incessant negatives and attempts to micromanage the university. I haven’t seen anything positive from them since they were added to the board; they have added nothing constructive to the debate or to the life of the university. I would strongly suspect none of this hard core group of individuals attended UofL, nor have they sent any of their sons and daughters there.
I’ve served under five chairmen and was chairman for two years during my 11 years on the board. Not one of these chairmen, self included, to the best of my knowledge has ever had any significant problems with Dr. Ramsey. I think the spectacle that occurred at the last board meeting was over reaching and exposed these Trustees.
They apparently didn’t want to wait for Governor Bevin to make new appointments or for the board to be legally constituted before they made their move. They were in a hurry, and they wanted the spotlight to embarrass President Jim Ramsey, and by their methods embarrass us all. They certainly got some attention but I think they have over-reached and that’s going to have a negative effect for them, as well it should.
I’ve served on over 30 boards of directors locally, statewide, and nationally, and I have never seen this much negativity and dysfunctional behavior on any other board I have served on. Once you get three or four people focusing on a different agenda the board can quickly become unworkable. It is disruptive to every meeting. You come into the meeting and its set up like a big drama or “gotcha moment” to be played out before the media. This has been practically the case every single meeting beginning in 2013.
Among them is one of the individuals who used his relationship with the previous State Auditor to initiate an audit of the University of Louisville Foundation. The auditor needs to finish his work. If there are changes that need to be made, we will make them. However, we will make them in an orderly, professional way that does not harm the university. The ultimate dream of the university is to be self-sufficient financially, not having to depend upon ever-declining state funding.
This is reckless behavior to be attempting to disrupt the leadership of the university in a time of severe state budget challenges. This is beyond the absurd. I am deeply disappointed. If they had the university’s best interest at heart, this kind of behavior would not be occurring. I applaud Dr. Ramsey for being able to sit there in the midst of that.
Fortunately, Dr. Ramsey continues to have the support of those on the Board of Trustees that love and cherish this university, including the Board of Overseers, the Foundation, and the Alumni Association. That is not surprising because this individual has worked wonders at the University of Louisville. The controversial actions of a small number of trustees has nothing to do with the continued vitality of the university.
Jim Ramsey has been an excellent President of the university. His work has been transformative, taking what used to be a commuter school and transforming it into a major metropolitan research university. We have a lot more to do. I am hopeful that the alumni, those deeply involved with the university, and the wise business people of Louisville and our elected officials can see through the distractions and respect what President Jim Ramsey has accomplished. There is so much more he can make possible at the University of Louisville. It is time to say, “Enough is enough.”