Later this morning, the Board of Directors of the University of Louisville Foundation will meet to discuss matters crucial to its future relationship to the University of Louisville. Following the forced resignation of former UofL Pres. James Ramsey, a Foundation board comprised largely of friends and appointees of Ramsey seems more interested in protecting his legacy and image than in facing up to the wholesale loss of confidence in the Foundation by the community. Having been forced to partially lift the curtain on its internal activities, and in the face of refusal to fully disclose its confusing if not inappropriate financial machinations to University of Louisville trustees, the Foundation still clings to the incomprehensible belief that it has the right to select and oversee the outside entity that will audit its financial activities. If allowed to do so, the Foundation would thus define both the scope of such an examination and control the dissemination of its result. After all, he who pays the piper calls the tune. All this from a Board of Directors that appeared prepared to retain Ramsey as President of the Foundation and award him even more money from the University’s assets. Of course, it is possible that more than just protecting Ramsey’s reputation is at stake. As yet undocumented allegations of financial mismanagement or worse are circulating. Certainly it is in the interest of the entire University community that no doubts remain after a long-overdue, no-holds-barred audit of the vaults of the Foundation. It is follow the money time!
Today’s meeting falls a day after a meeting of the UofL Board of Trustees which shares only a handful of members with the Foundation Directors. For the most part, that meeting dealt with routine matters, although there was a long meeting in Executive session purporting to deal with ongoing litigation – apparently there is a lot of that going around. It was obvious however, that in the background a battle was ongoing over who and what will control the financial assets of the University. The current Foundation leadership considers itself to be an independent entity, albeit purportedly with the University’s best interests at heart. In a world where University Trustees do not have budgetary oversight on Foundation spending and have to resort to open-records requests to get information about multimillion dollar transfers between various University business entities, that assumption needs very much to be independently confirmed.
I am way behind.
I had a busy August and September of family activities and travel and only returned Wednesday from overseas. I have not recently chronicled the events leading up to today’s Director’s meeting impasse. I refer readers to yesterday’s accounts by Andrew Wolfson of the Courier-Journal, by Chris Otts of WDRG, by Kate Howard of the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, and by Joe Sonka of Insider Louisville. I was there too. The reporting and background above is accurate. Additionally, reporters Wolfson and Otts both recently published the results of detailed examinations of some of the financial dealings that have been of concern to at least some UofL Trustees. I would add only the following observations or commentary this time.
Governor Bevin’s unexplained failure to act.
The degree of handicap forced upon the UofL Board of Trustees by Governor Bevin is impossible to overstate. The Board still feels constrained to act only on “routine” matters because of an agreement it made with the Governor over minority racial appointments to the Board itself. The Governor on the other hand apparently does not feel compelled to fulfill his side of the bargain. Because of three vacancies that the Governor promised to fill, the critically important Finance Committee did not have a quorum to conduct even its routine business! Now more than ever, financial oversight by the Trustees is essential. Trustees are still being criticized for asking questions and demanding accountability. Ironically, during the Trustees meeting, it was announced that the Kentucky Supreme Court found that Governor Bevin overstepped his authority by unilaterally cutting state University budgets last spring. Central to that decision was the acknowledgement that the Legislature endowed the Universities as semi-autonomous entities independent of such executive branch control. In my opinion, that reality remains to be seen. It seems clear to me that the governing body of the University of Louisville is not calling the shots. I have already called for a complete overhaul of how our University Boards are assembled, and I will likely do so again.
Athletics any time.
At a time when the University of Louisville has been descending into confusion and scandal, I was uncomfortable with the amount of chest-thumping over our athletic prowess. Get our houses in order first, and then admire the other shiny things! In this regard, I am waiting on the University’s response to the Attorney’ General’s finding that it improperly denied me access to documents related to the Basketball scandal. I am particularly interested in learning who put up the money to pay for the escorts made available to recruits or players. I have been told that the answer might be a blockbuster. I take this occasion to point out that the UofL Board of Trustees has little or no oversight responsibility for the spending budget of UofL Athletic Association.
Gender balance on the Board.
There was one other contentious exchange during yesterday’s Trustee meeting following the presentation of the slate of officers of the Board, and therefore its Executive Committee. The female members of the Board complained about the absence of any women on the Executive Committee. [At least one woman was asked if she would serve but declined to do so.] Their complaint is well taken. Indeed, the proportion of women on the Board itself is less than demanded by Kentucky Statute. [See the end of this article for details.] What was of most interest to me is that at least two if not more of the Trustee women were not even aware of the requirement for proportional representation! I have written several times about the failure of the UofL Board, and perhaps other University Boards to reflect legislative intent in this and other matters. In such an environment we should not replace existing Boards wholesale, but we need a system of Trustee appointment based on what talent can be offered the schools rather than who one knows or what political or business connections exist.
The above is all that I have time for. It is 7:30 a.m. and I need to get ready for this morning’s Foundation meeting. What happens today may set the stage for the coming years. For now it is clear to me that former President Ramsey’s shadow remains to obscure that future.
Peter Hasselbacher, MD
Emeritus Professor of Medicine UofL
Sept 23, 2016
Here is a summary I prepared yesterday to explain the Board appointment process to someone.
“We spoke briefly this morning after the Board of Trustees meeting about required gender balance on University Boards of Trustees. I had written a fair amount about this previously, and was fairly certain of the requirement for an equal number of men and women. Here is my most recent effort.
The clearest statutory requirement for such balance comes in the enabling statute for the Governor’s Postsecondary Education Nominating Committee. Here is a link to the statute.
Ironically, Gov. Bevin’s restructuring of this committee ignores its own statutory requirements.
There is a separate statute controlling the composition of the University of Louisville Board Of Trustees.
The Trustee statute is silent about gender, but the Nominating Committee’s controlling statute is decidedly not. Neither statute specifies the makeup of officers or an executive committee with respect to gender, political party, or minority racial status.”