UofL President Jim Ramsey will leave university as Gov. Bevin announces reorganization of school's trustees

06/17/2016 02:18 PM

FRANKFORT — University of Louisville President Jim Ramsey, who has led the institution since 2002, has agreed to step down after Gov. Matt Bevin announced Friday that the UofL Board of Trustees will be reorganized.

Bevin said after speaking with UofL supporters, he found “pretty much uniform agreement” that “the board as it exists right now is not particularly functional.”

“Its dysfunction has precluded it from doing what its responsibility is, and that is to be effective fiduciary leaders of the university,” the governor said.

Bevin announced that the new UofL board will consist of 13 trustees, 10 of whom will be gubernatorial appointees, down from the current makeup of 20 trustees.

In his executive order, Bevin directed the Postsecondary Education Nominating Committee to recommend 30 potential appointees within two weeks. The governor said he “would be happy” to reconsider the recently removed trustees if CPE lists them among the 30 possible appointees.

Until a new board is composed, Bevin appointed UofL Foundation Treasurer Junior Bridgeman, Bonita Black and Dr. Ron Wright to serve on a three-member interim panel via executive order. Bevin said the three accepted their new roles, but he had not discussed his decision with current board members.

Bevin’s decision to dissolve the board follows a June 2 decision by some trustees to block Ramsey’s proposed budget, which called for 5 percent tuition increases for most students, from approval by the panel’s finance committee, according to WDRB-TV.

Bevin told reporters that he has discussed this issue “for many months” with several people, including Ramsey.

“There’s a whole variety of issues that have been associated with the university that have not been in the best interest of the university, and so there was no single thing at all,” he said. “Quite the opposite. It was very intentional. This is something, let’s be honest, that has needed to be done for quite some time. It really has.”

The governor praised Ramsey’s leadership at UofL as his exit from the university looms.

“The university from where it was 14 years and change ago, not even the same,” Bevin said. “It’s so remarkably better on any measurable front.

“Have there been plenty of bumps in the road? Certainly,” he continued. “Have there been too many in recent months and years? Yes, but in the totality is the University of Louisville not many multiples on the positive front better than it was 14 years ago? Yes. I would defy anyone to think of a single category where it is in worse shape now than it was at the beginning of his tenure.”

In his resignation letter, dated Thursday, Ramsey wrote that a newly commissioned board “should have the opportunity for a ‘fresh start.’”

“As a result, upon a legal restructure of the Board of Trustees at the University of Louisville, I will immediately offer, to the newly appointed board, my resignation/retirement as President of the University of Louisville,” he wrote. “Again, I thank you for your support and commitment to addressing difficult issues that are important to moving our state forward.”

The institution has come under varying degrees of scrutiny in recent years. Among them:

  • In March 2015, a former UofL official was sentenced to more than five years in federal prison for tax fraud and embezzlement.
  • Auditor Mike Harmon, continuing an inquiry into the UofL foundation’s relationship with the school launched by ex-Auditor Adam Edelen in June 2015, is tentatively expected to complete his office’s investigation into the foundation by the end of summer or early fall, according to spokesman Michael Goins.

Bevin said he was unsure whether Ramsey would stay on as president of the UofL Foundation, which paid him nearly $9 million on top of his university salary from 2012 through 2014, according to The Courier-Journal.

“I have only spoken to him only about his role at the University of Louisville, but I think it would be fair to say that his role as the foundation president has always been contingent with his leadership at the University of Louisville,” Bevin said.

“Even now the way it is structured is that the two have been one in the same – the leadership of one has been the leadership of the other. Some feel that it should not be that way. I think there’s compelling argument on both sides, and I will leave it to the new board to determine whether they feel the next president should in fact have the degree of involvement at the foundation that the previous one has had.”

Attorney General Andy Beshear, who has already taken Bevin to court over current-year cuts to higher education, said his office is “closely reviewing today’s actions, calling them “unprecedented.”

“Lawmakers mandated that these boards be independent,” Beshear said in a statement, also referencing Bevin’s reorganization of the Kentucky Retirement Systems’ governing board later Friday.

State Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, questioned the legality of Bevin’s decision to abolish and reorganize the UofL board.

He pointed to state laws that say the UofL board must have 17 trustees and that a governor cannot remove university trustees without cause, adding that he expects a court challenge.

“There has been some dysfunction on the board, but this doesn’t seem like the best solution because by doing this maneuver and having it possibly run afoul of our statutes, what’s going to happen is there’s likely to be a big legal battle over the governor’s actions, which will actually put the university in a holding pattern right as school’s getting ready to start and they’re about ready to experience yet another budget cut on July 1,” McGarvey said in a phone interview.

“And so this whole thing, instead of causing reform, could actually hold the university back even further.”

Another attorney also questioned Bevin’s ability to make changes to the board.

Sheryl Snyder, an attorney with Frost, Brown, Todd, told Pure Politics that the reorganization of the board “raises a very serious separation of powers question.”

The Louisville attorney said a governor’s authority does not extend to public universities and boards.

If the governor’s reorganization does stay in place, Snyder told Pure Politics the state would fall back into old-time patronage politics.

“We’re way back past Happy Chandler in the era of patronage,” he said.

Others praised Ramsey’s leadership at the university.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell thanked Ramsey for his 14 years at U of L’s helm, calling him “been an outstanding president for the University of Louisville who has dramatically transformed our school from a fine local institution into a nationally acclaimed one, renowned for academics and research.”

“I’ve seen firsthand how he has grown UofL into one of the best metropolitan research universities in the country,” McConnell, R-Louisville, said in a statement. “He’s made the school central to the growth and prosperity of the city of Louisville. And he has led UofL to greater athletic success as a new member of the Atlantic Coast Conference.”

State Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said that while a change in leadership was necessary, he appreciated Ramsey’s service to the university.

“The University has made tremendous progress and systemic change during his tenure,” Stivers said in a statement. “However, I do believe it is time for a fresh start as Governor Bevin has stated. I look forward to working with the new board members and President Ramsey’s successor to continue to move the University of Louisville forward.”

Tom Jurich, U of L’s athletics director, also thanked Ramsey for their work together.

“My wife Terrilynn and I love this city and the University of Louisville,” he said in a statement. “We will support the governor and will continue to be committed to our university.”

Pure Politics Managing Editor Nick Storm contributed to this report.

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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