An audit into the web of spending practices by the University of Louisville’s investment arm revealed a “disturbing picture,” a top university official said Thursday.
U of L’s trustees reviewed the audit, which drilled down into the U of L Foundation’s finances during the tenure of former university President James Ramsey, who also doubled as foundation president until stepping down last year.
After emerging from a closed session, trustees took no action on the audit, but board Chairman J. David Grissom said they will discuss it at their meeting next week.
“The report paints a disturbing picture,” he said.
The audit said it uncovered instances of foundation overspending from its endowment. It pointed to a $52.2 million loan of endowment funds that it said is unlikely to be repaid.
The trustees’ next steps will include conferring with legal counsel, Grissom said.
“The board has not determined what legal actions, if any, should be taken,” he said, adding trustees will make that decision in coming weeks.
The audit scrutinized the nonprofit foundation’s compensation of U of L administrators, its real estate deals and other practices. U of L officials noted the actions occurred when the foundation was led by a prior board and when the university was under different leadership.
Foundation chairwoman Diane Medley pointed to recent changes as evidence “things have already changed for the better.” Those actions included changes in governance, financial management and the foundation’s transparency, Medley said.
The audit comes amid a difficult time for U of L, which is also facing accreditation problems and a budget deficit.
As part of its report, Auditors delved into details of a deferred compensation plan for administrators. It also scrutinized foundation investments and spending decisions.
The report said a deferred compensation plan administered by the foundation cost it more than $21.8 million, including contributions and earnings of $12.5 million to nine employees. The deferred compensation was not transparent and foundation directors failed to oversee it, the report said.
It detailed expenditures on executive compensation and bowl game trips that it said did not appear to be in accordance with the types of projects authorized to receive the funds.
The report said the foundation liquidated $42 million from “endowment pool assets” to cover unbudgeted and over-budgeted spending. The foundation also invested nearly $10 million in high-risk startup companies currently valued around $1.7 million, the report said.
It said the foundation’s real estate acquisition process lacked formal procedures. As a result, it acquired eight properties at prices totaling $10.3 million above appraised values, the report said.
The accounting firm Alvarez & Marsal did the audit under a $1.7 million contract with U of L.
The audit reviewed a period before shake-ups occurred in the university’s administration and in the membership of the board of trustees and foundation board.
Since Ramsey’s departure, big changes were made to the foundation, including the ending of a deferred compensation plan. U of L presidents are now barred from serving concurrently as foundation president, as Ramsey did. New policies were adopted for travel, entertainment and expenses. A line-item foundation budget was established “with actual expenses matching actual revenues.”
The foundation board now includes 12 newly appointed members.
Its recent woes are blamed for a decline in gifts to benefit the university. The foundation’s problems also came amid a period of turmoil at UofL.
The school’s accrediting organization put U of L on probation last year over concerns of undue political influence when Gov. Matt Bevin abolished and replaced the school’s governing board last year. An accreditation team is expected to visit the campus in September.
U of L officials are working to overcome a $48 million budget shortfall.