Things are unraveling more swiftly at the University of Louisville. Against a background of mounting local, state, and even national concern about the ability or appropriateness of President James Ramsey to lead the University; and with more frequently heard rumors that his remaining tenure is numbered in days and weeks; at last week’s Board of Trustees meeting, two Board members withdrew their support of his presidency and the Board Chairman voiced support of decentralizing the leadership of the University and UofL Foundation – a change President Ramsey vigorously opposed. Support from the community demanding that the Board exercise their statutory and community responsibilities to protect our University seemed to actually be having an effect – at least for some Board members.
A life preserver is thrown.
No sooner than it takes to make a phone call to Frankfort, Governor Bevin announced his intention to declare illegitimate the last three or four Board members appointed by his predecessor – which includes the Board’s current Chairperson. He furthermore voiced a request/demand that the Board as a whole cease immediately to do any business until a judicial opinion about the legality of the racial makeup of the board could be determined. This of course might give Gov. Bevin an opportunity to appoint four new Board members of his own – a total of nearly one quarter of the Board’s membership that is subject to his discretion! The Governor’s actions would emasculate the Board, abort potential reforms, thwart demands for accountability, and perpetuate for months a rudderless ship – unless one is content with the way things have been going in recent years. Surely only the most rabid fanboys and those doing business with the University or its associated foundations can be happy with the status quo.
I agree with the Governor in part.
I have written at length about how the state’s University board-appointment process of the Commonwealth’s is broken. If the last four appointees at UofL are illegitimate, then so is the membership of the entire Board! Even the makeup of the Board Nominating Committee that selects the eligible names put before the Governor to chose among is currently inconsistent with its own statutorily required composition. The makeup of such committees and boards can reasonably be argued to be a predictable consequence of the structural racism that underlies our society.
The current dust-up being used to justify Gov. Bevin’s actions derives from the fact that as of the most recent round of appointments last Spring, the only African-American Board member remaining on the Board was one of the the group of the three members automatically empaneled because they are presidents of the faculty, staff, or student organizations over which any Governor has no control. Of note, but usually overlooked, is the fact that two additional Board members are appointed by the Governor from names submitted by the UofL Alumni Association. There are no statutory restrictions on who the alumni nominations are other than that they be UofL alumni themselves. It would appear that these latter seats are the most secure of all and in my opinion are currently occupied by two of President Ramsey’s most obvious allies. For that matter, the only statutory requirement for the Board Nominating Committee is that their nominations lead to boards that are balanced by sex!
On the other hand, the UofL, and other state university boards, require that among other qualifications that the racial minority of the Board be no less than the statewide proportion of racial minorities. Therefore, we are forced to confront the difficult-to-talk-about and the even more difficult to define scientifically what race is or means with respect to humans. The statewide proportion of Kentuckians classified by the U.S. Census definition as black is 8.2%. Following the last set of regular Spring appointments by Governor Beshear, the UofL Board had one member from the automatic set who is identified as of African-American descent and a newly appointed member who is of Hispanic descent and considered to be a racial minority for purposes of statutory balance. Thus, with 10% “minorities,” the Board could be argued to be well within its required makeup.
Not all were satisfied.
Some representatives of the black community felt otherwise and were further aggrieved that one of the nine nominees for the three regular spots up for appointment was a current African-American Board member who was eligible, but who was not reappointed. (That person headed an organization that had academic/business relationships with the University and who was a supporter of President Ramsey.) I myself have argued that there is, indeed should be no restriction to an upper limit of African-American Board members for UofL. Given our self-declared and reasonable mission as an Urban University, our Board should look like and think like our community and our student bodies.
The protest and advocacy initiatives of the concerned individuals included a lawsuit for a judgement that the Board was out of compliance and that an additional black trustee, or even more than one to match the racial makeup of Louisville, should be appointed. A subsequent determination by the Attorney General’s office found that according to Kentucky law, that for the purposes of the operative statutes, “Hispanic” counts as a racial minority for University Board composition.
One of the obvious ways to make more people happy was for one or more of the current Board members to resign, thus allowing Governor Beshear to replace them without a need for intervening deliberation by the Nominating Committee. Indeed, a white, apparently Euro-American Board member did resign, but the Governor delegated control of the nominating process to the Committee which acted in an expedited manner. Alas, only a small handful of new nominations of unknown (to me) race were received from the public. These were added to an existing standing list of previous nominations for University Board memberships. No one was interviewed for the nomination. Three of the names were submitted to the Governor who appointed a second and widely respected African-American to the UofL Board. Problem solved – at least for the time being. Reform is needed for a nomination and appointment process that is variously characterized as overly political, purchasable, elitist, sexist, and racist. Nonetheless, it is clear to me that today’s UofL Board is well within its statutory requirement as far as race is concerned. I wish it were more obvious that the Board as a whole was exercising its own statutory function.
Apparently Governor Bevin feels differently, to the extent that he is willing to throw the entire Board under the bus and with it the stability of an increasingly fragile University. Of course, Gov. Bevin has also stated that he wants to undo much of former Governor Beshear’s legacy. Other reporters have pointed out the role of the UofL Foundation’s contract Rebublican operative in this current initiative. Not surprisingly, President Ramsey endorsed Gov. Bevin’s actions, ostensively in support of the importance of racial balance of his Board. I am unaware of, and find it disappointing that President Ramsey never raised a peep about the importance of having minority representation on his board when the matter was flaring in public view. Now that his presidency is in jeopardy, and when he is receiving criticism from some on the Board that can remove him, he is apparently singing a louder tune. In my opinion we are seeing self-serving opportunism and desperation rather than conviction. If he is not ashamed, then I am ashamed for him.
Its time to go.
At the time of his sombrero affair, President Ramsey was reported to have stated that he would not resign, at least until the scandal of providing sexual favors for potential basketball recruits was seen through. I don’t think that is the biggest problem facing the University of Louisville, nor that President Ramsey is the best or only person to represent the University before the NCAA. I respectfully suggest that President Ramsey follow the lead of recent President Tim Wolfe of the University of Missouri and step down, and for the same reasons. He can no longer lead and there is no one else left to take the fall for him.
If I have made an error of fact, please direct me to the evidence to fix it.
Peter Hasselbacher, MD
Emeritus Professor of Medicine, UofL
January 17, 2016