University of Louisville trustees push no-confidence vote in Ramsey
Several members of the University of Louisville Board of Trustees wanted to take a vote of no confidence in the leadership of President James Ramsey on Tuesday. The vote proposed by trustee Dr. Jody Prather was not allowed on procedural grounds, but the message was sent nonetheless.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Several members of the University of Louisville Board of Trustees wanted to take a vote of no confidence in the leadership of President James Ramsey on Tuesday.
The vote proposed by trustee Dr. Jody Prather was not allowed on procedural grounds, but the message was sent nonetheless.
Embattled after a number of recent scandals, Ramsey faces increasing pressure to step aside after 13 years leading the university. Tuesday’s move comes a day after a former university institutional compliance officer filed a lawsuit accusing Ramsey of hindering his work investigating conflicts of interest.
At least seven of the 17 governor-appointed members of the board signaled Tuesday that they had lost confidence in Ramsey – including Larry Benz, the chairman of the board.
“This is about the crisis, the embarrassments, the scandals, the investigations, the indictments that are occurring at the university today and for months, the Board of Trustees has been prevented from having meaningful discussion about those topics,” trustee Craig Greenberg told reporters following the meeting. “It’s time that changes. It’s time the Board of Trustees does its job in governing this university.”
Ramsey, who did not speak during the meeting, told reporters he was “not at all surprised” by the move, which he called a "nuclear bomb." Dissension on the board has been “going on a long time,” Ramsey said.
Asked if he would resign, Ramsey indicated he plans to stay at least until his next annual evaluation in July, and he said the board gave him an "excellent" evaluation last July. His contract with U of L, extended in 2012, runs through 2020.
Asked whether he can sympathize with the opposing board members, Ramsey said: “I don’t believe they have put the welfare of the university and students first.”
The no-confidence vote would have merely expressed an opinion and not removed Ramsey.
While supporters like Greenberg said the no-confidence motion would have passed Tuesday, the composition of the board may change before its next meeting April 20.
The board has one vacancy and may soon have another if a settlement can be reached with Gov. Matt Bevin and the Kentucky Justice Resource Center over the lack of black trustees. That would give Bevin two appointees who could be in place by April 20.
Besides Greenberg, Prather and Benz, trustees who indicated they had “no confidence” in Ramsey include board treasurer Stephen Campbell, Emily Bingham, Douglas Hall and Larry Hayes.
While Hayes did directly say how he would have voted on the motion, he said he “understand(s) full well where you (Prather) are coming from” and complained of Ramsey’s lack of consultation of the board regarding the self-imposed ban on postseason play for the men’s basketball team, saying it showed a lack of respect for the board’s governing function.
Another board member, Bill Summers, expressed frustration with the administration and railed against what he sees as efforts to “filibuster” important discussion by the board, but he did not express an opinion on the proposed vote.
Meanwhile, trustees who support Ramsey – or who opposed taking the no-confidence vote – include Dr. Robert Hughes, board vice chairwoman Brucie Moore, Marie Abrams, Bob Benson, Bruce Henderson and Ron Butt.
Trustees Bob Rounsavall and Jonathan Blue did not express an opinion on the Ramsey vote Tuesday, as they watched the meeting via video conference. The board also has three members, not appointed by the governor, who represent faculty, students and staff.
During the meeting, Butt said he has heard about a plan by the dissenting board members to install a “family member” as president of the university, and Hughes accused Greenberg of orchestrating the plot and demanded that Greenberg reveal the desired successor for Ramsey.
Greenberg told Hughes he has no idea what Hughes was talking about.
Hughes said the problem is not with Ramsey but with the "broken board" of trustees. He said the trustees pushing for change are not as invested in the university -- neither alumni nor parents of U of L students.
Hughes said the governor should ask for the resignation of all 17 appointed trustees and that he would resign if asked.
While the dissenting board members claimed their attempts to discuss serious issues over the last few years have been quashed, Ramsey supporters accused the skeptics of springing these concerns on the board.
"I'm the only engineer on the board ... present the facts. A lot of what was discussed here has never been brought before the board before," said trustee Bruce Henderson.
Henderson also said there is "a lot of support left on this board for Dr. Ramsey."
Ramsey tenure beset by mounting scandals
While Ramsey touts the university’s improvement in metrics like six-year graduation rate, freshmen ACT scores and fundraising, his tenure has been beset by a number of misconduct scandals or embarrassing incidents, especially in the last year.
Beginning with former education dean Robert Felner in 2008, a number of university employees were implicated in thefts or misappropriation of funds under U of L’s control. Last year, the university hired an auditing firm to help it implement tighter financial controls.
In 2013, the university gave three former university vice presidents and a high-level administrative assistant larger early retirement payments in exchange for signing legal agreements not to disclose information or disparage the university, The Courier-Journal reported.
Early last year, federally required tax disclosures showed that Ramsey and other senior administrators had received multi-million-dollar compensation packages from the university’s nonprofit foundation, which manages its endowment.
A WDRB investigation showed that, in addition to large deferred compensation awards, some administrators were extra pay from a separate nonprofit created by the foundation and that the payments were inflated with “tax gross-ups” – or extra money meant to ensure the administrators pay no income taxes.
In July 2015, a university-hired compensation consultant said Ramsey was getting at least $600,000 – and sometimes up to about $900,000 – in tax gross up payments alone each year from the foundation, and the consultant recommended ending the gross-up payments.
On Tuesday, trustee Emily Bingham said the board was “lied to” about the extent of Ramsey’s compensation from the foundation. (DOCUMENT | Bingham's written statement of no-confidence in Ramsey)
Campbell said it took a year and an outside consultant to get answers about how much Ramsey is paid.
Also last year, a WDRB investigation showed the foundation had awarded, without board discussion or competitive bidding, two six-figure consulting contracts to a former longtime board member and vice chairman.
Revelations about the foundation prompted former State Auditor Adam Edelen to begin an examination, which is being carried on by Mike Harmon, Edelen’s successor.
In October, a Louisville woman released a tell-all book alleging that a former U of L basketball staffer paid her to arrange dances and prostitution for players and recruits over a four-year period. Last month, Ramsey decided to impose a post-season ban on the basketball program after a third-party investigation into the allegations.
Also in October, Ramsey and his president’s office staff posed for a photo with The Courier-Journal during a Halloween party in which they wore Mexican costumes, including sombreros and fake mustaches.
After a backlash, Ramsey publicly apologized and the university committed to diversity training.
In early November, 78 faculty members – most in U of L’s College of Arts and Sciences – wrote a letter to Ramsey complaining about the "drumbeat of crises that have embarrassed the university and made many ashamed to be associated with it."
While not calling for Ramsey’s resignation, the professors said U of L faces “a crisis of accountability and a consequent lack of confidence in its leadership.”
Prather referenced that letter when explained his motion Tuesday to take a no-confidence vote regarding Ramsey.
Then in December, the university placed its vice president for health affairs, David Dunn, and vice president for information technology, Priscilla Hancock, on paid leave following a campus police and federal law enforcement inquiry into “allegations of potential misconduct” that surfaced in the summer of 2014, Ramsey told the university community in a Dec. 9 letter.
On Monday, former U of L institutional compliance officer Robin Wilcox claimed Ramsey misrepresented the facts of the Dunn-Hancock investigation in Ramsey’s university-wide letter.
In September, all 20 trustees signed a document praising U of L’s successes under Ramsey and expressing their support for him.
The resolution was a peace-making move aimed at restoring relations on the board following the election of Benz as chairman, who – with the support of the Ramsey skeptics – leap-frogged Moore for the board’s chairmanship.
But Ramsey’s unanimous support on the board did not last long. In the last meeting Jan. 14, Campbell and Greenberg publicly withdrew their support for Ramsey.
“In any large institution you encounter challenges that must be appropriately dealt with as they come,” Ramsey wrote in a January op-ed for The Courier-Journal. “What you cannot do is let those challenges distract you from your overall mission.”
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