LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- University of Louisville President James Ramsey defended payments he and his top staff have received from the university foundation in a contentious meeting of the university's Board of Trustees on Thursday.

Clearly agitated and at times defiant, Ramsey said recent scrutiny of the compensation packages by the media and a handful of trustees suggest a lack of trust in his leadership, under which “this university has done pretty damn well.”

He brushed off calls to hire a third-party firm to review how the foundation makes decisions, and he said folding the foundation into the university – as one trustee has suggested – would “kill” the university's next big fundraising campaign.

Ramsey called the special meeting after a series of media reports about how he and his top executives have received million-dollar pay packages from the university foundation, which is separate from the university and has its own board of directors. Ramsey is president of both organizations.

-- such as one instance in which the “deferred” pay was only deferred for a single day and that some administrators were paid by a third organization created by the foundation – generated editorials in The Courier-Journal and Lexington Herald-Leader. 

Later in April,
to look into the university and the foundation.

At Thursday's meeting, Wilson said he was “embarrassed” to realize he did not know the full extent of Ramsey's compensation the last time he was asked to approve it and that it makes him wonder what else he doesn't know.

But Ramsey told Wilson that “the salaries are out there” as a matter of public record and said, “I can't buy that.”

Trustee Larry Benz, while sympathizing with Ramsey's claim that his integrity is under attack, said it still might be a good idea to hire a third-party firm to look at how the foundation makes decisions.

“With a billion-dollar foundation, does it not make sense to have an outside organization do an audit of it? Not a financial audit, but a processing audit?” Benz asked.

“See again, that's an issue of trust,” Ramsey said. “You don't trust that what we're doing is,” he said, trailing off. Ramsey then shook his head and told Benz he can “do whatever you want” if the other foundation board members also want to hire an outside firm.

When Benz said the foundation, despite being “incredibly successful,” might now be getting some “justifiable public scrutiny,” Ramsey replied: “I don't think that's the issue.”

Later in the meeting, trustee Steve Campbell pushed back against Ramsey's assertion that questions about compensation and the foundation detract from Ramsey's performance and the university's progress since he became president in 2002. Campbell said his questions “in no way negate all the great things that are going on.”

Glaring across the table at Campbell, Ramsey replied: “We'd just like to hear you talk about them (the ‘great things' going on at U of L) sometime in a meeting – and not talk about governance or process.”

Earlier in the meeting, Ramsey said Campbell's request to know every university employee who is paid by the foundation “seems strange.” At another point, Ramsey asked trustee Emily Bingham: “Why do you just want (to know) foundation (compensation); can you answer that?” 

Campbell interjected that it was actually his request, not Bingham's, and the discussion moved on.

Campbell said he asked nearly a year ago for information about university employees compensated by the foundation, though there was some quibbling about whether his requested was properly communicated or received.

Robert Hughes, who is chairman of both the foundation board and the Board of Trustees, complained that “repetitive” and “incessant” informational requests such as Campbell's have been taking up to a quarter of Ramsey and his staff's time lately.

Campbell replied: “It's actually more alarming to me that that simple question takes so long to answer.”

Trustee Jody Prather, who is also a member of the foundation's board, said he doesn't think anything inappropriate is going on, but the foundation may still have a perception problem that could be cleared up with additional scrutiny. 

“I don't view it as saying we don't trust the administration if we look at process and management,” he said. “That is one thing I do see in the media, that there is some concern. I have donors and folks that are tied to the university that come to me, and the one thing they have questions about is the foundation.”

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