Faculty Senate Meeting Updates— Or Lack Thereof!

I attended the April 1 meeting of the University of Louisville’s Faculty Senate hoping for updates in a number of areas of both faculty and community concern that we have been following. These included the politically motivated grants to the Business School, compensation packages for senior UofL executives, and Board of Trustee concerns about University governance.  In all honesty, I came away disappointed.

Koch/Schnatter Foundation Grants.
Last month, Pres. James Ramsey signed linked contracts on behalf of the University and the University of Louisville Foundation accepting a potential $6.3 million dollars but which carries with them tight restrictions on the kind of thoughts allowable in the minds of recipients.  Others and I found the restrictions impermissible in the academic setting but I expressed my opinion why University Administration would have no objection, indeed, no option except to accept both the money and the outside control.  In accepting the grant, the University violated its own rules about requiring faculty approval before new centers or programs were applied for.  In the faculty Senate meeting of March, representatives of the relevant faculty Academic Program Committee pointed out that no such approval had been requested.  The Provost made much of the great value the administration placed on the input of its faculty but what else could she say?  The fact is, that as of the April 1 Senate meeting, the Committee had not met to consider the matter and there was no further discussion offered from the assembly. In contrast, in his March newsletter to the community, President Ramsey makes acceptance of the grant sound like the done-deal that skeptics in the community like myself believe has occurred.  Certainly there was no mention in the update of any contingency upon faculty approval. No doubt faculty other than myself are feeling steamrolled.

Deferred Compensation and Bonuses to UofL Executives.
At the March Senate meeting, a motion was made to form an ad hoc faculty committee to consider the extensively reported executive compensation packages given to current and recently retired senior UofL executives.  In the interim, the matter was considered by the Senate Executive Committee and it was announced at last week’s meeting that such a committee would be formed.  The composition of the committee and any limits on its charge were not mentioned.  It remains to be seen if the concerns of the faculty about legal or ethical issues, or about the less discrete but still significant impact on employee and faculty morale will be addressed.

In his presentation to the Senate, President Ramsey addressed the matter personally. He repeated what has become the University’s party line that the money was approved by the UofL Foundation to provide incentive for him to stay, comparing it to Coach Rick Pitino’s compensation package in that regard.  He attempted to downplay the multi-million dollar amount of the bonuses by pointing out that he was not getting it all at once.  In response to a question, he assumed that the discussions how his awards were initiated “should” appear in the minutes of the UofL and Foundation Boards.  It was revealed later in the meeting that a comparative pittance of $4 million will also be provided by the Foundation for faculty raises.  Rather than taking some of the sting out, that makes the disparity in compensation even more apparent!

We knew it all the time!
In discussion above, President Ramsey noted that “sometimes we sort of think of the Foundation as a secret organization,” but that he did not want to see the it painted as “a villain.”  In its protracted litigation and appeals (none of which it has won to date,) the UofL Foundation claims that it is a private entity, independent of the University of Louisville, and not subject to the same rules of transparency and accountability as the University itself.   I therefore found it ironic when President asserted that the Foundation “does what it is asked to do by the UofL Board of Trustees.” Hasn’t he just given up the last shred of the Foundation’s legal argument?

President Ramsey also took the occasion to point out the increasing amounts of academic support transferred from the Foundation to the University each year, noting that some $143 million was transferred this year, indeed more than the $139 million of general fund support from the state of Kentucky!  However, no mention of what the Foundation money was being spent on was offered in this venue.  I propose that the President’s important assertion would be strengthened by a full disclosure of the Foundation’s receipts and spending.  The limited public documents available to me include things such as “loans” to the University about which no additional information is given. How are such monies used?  I further suggest that more openness has the potential of mitigating the disappointment of an across-the-board 3% tuition increase announced immediately following President Ramsey’s discussion of his own compensation.

Board of Trustee concerns about governance.
In summarizing the outcomes of recent UofL Board of Trustee meetings, President Ramsey stated that a group of Trustees wanted to look at how they did their business, and in particular to debate a list of 19 suggestions brought forward by “two or three” Board members last summer. An ad hoc committee was to be formed to address stated concerns but it has not yet even met.  Ramsey noted that “we try to stay out of these discussions” but in my opinion he gave away his position by wondering aloud whether the debate was about governance of the board or governance of the University.  Dr. Robert Hughes, the Board’s Chairperson and a strong supporter of President Ramsey, has suggested in effect that the Board of Trustees should not be meddling with the internal workings of the University. My reading of the Board’s charge from Kentucky statute is that supervision of the University’s management is just what the Board is supposed be doing.  How this matter plays out will have a major determinative effect on the University’s future.

Other matters.
There were a variety of committee reports offered to fill out the monthly two-hour meeting.  Notice was given of the appointment of an interim director of Human Resources.  In response to questions about whether a national search would be performed, little could be said.  It is apparently not clear where a new HR position would be placed within University administrative structure.  The recently vacated position was filled by a Senior Vice president.

Adjunct faculty.
There was discussion of use and compensation of part-time, or adjunct faculty.  The issue of dependence of State colleges and universities on other than full-time faculty and the relatively low pay and benefits has been in the national news and featured in our own Leo.  It was reported that limitations in UofL data systems prevents even basic questions about how much these folks are being paid for their work from being addressed. The College of Arts and Sciences requires these free-agent teachers for a majority of its class offerings, a dependency that has been a major factor in the last three rejections of UofL’s applications to host a Phi Beta Kappa chapter in Louisville.

Recent legislative session.
A report on the recent Kentucky legislative session was given.  Aside from who can use what bathroom, there was not a whole lot that impacted UofL.  In this vein, there seemed to be some mild penis envy that the University Kentucky was awarded $135 million in this non-budget session for the new research facility it did not get last year. It is clear that positioning for a greater slice of the state-funded pie by schools other than UofL and UK will continue. The two major Universities are seeking ways to reward them further for their research productivity. I trust that rewards for teaching productivity are not left as afterthoughts.

UofL administrative reorganization.
Restructuring the financial and informational technology functions of the far-flung administrative units of the University is still progressing through its planning phases. The trigger for this process was the series of financial scandals and a failing report card from an as yet mostly undisclosed external audit. There is talk of dual reporting within the various schools and colleges and upward to central administration. How the University handles the balance of federalism on its campuses is likely to ruffle some feathers.  It seems certain that more, not fewer administrators will have jobs— at least for a while.

Doubling down on unnecessary secrecy?
Emerging from the discussion for greater centralization of University administration were complaints from the faculty body about new rules for computer usage.  Nominally being imposed to guard against data beaches such as those occurring in the healthcare industry, the faculty had questions about an agreement they were being asked to sign and requirements for encryption of files on their work computers. They wondered why their lecture notes had to be confidential!  They anticipated difficulties with academic cooperation among colleagues.  Apparently there plans are being considered to equip all University computers with a standard set of security and encryption software. The sceptic in me sees a different motivation on the part of the University. Perhaps someone can forward a copy of the IT-use agreement and new computer-use requirements to put things in perspective for the rest of us. There are important trade-offs of security and privacy in play.  They need to be resolved for the right reasons.

Enough!  If I have made an error in fact– always a possibility– please let me know.  If you have something to add, please feel free to do so. If you wish to receive notice of new postings, please sign up in the side-bar where indicated.  Absolutely no spam will result.

Peter Hasselbacher, MD
Emeritus Professor of Medicine, UofL
7 April 2015