By any measure, governance at the University of Louisville is a mess right now:
▪ There are two boards, the “old” board and the one appointed by Gov. Matt Bevin when he abolished the first one. Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd has enjoined Bevin’s board from meeting but Bevin is challenging the injunction.
▪ Thanks to Bevin’s actions, the agency that accredits universities in this region has stated that the governor’s meddling may have damaged the university’s independence and with it its accreditation. Losing accreditation would significantly diminish the value of any degrees issued by U of L and hamstring grant applications.
▪ The authority of any or either board of trustees is compromised by the U of L Foundation, a fund-raising behemoth that has been supplementing pay of the president and several of his staff members without the approval, and sometimes without the knowledge, of the board.
▪ Making the relationship between the university and the foundation even murkier, James Ramsey, who resigned as president in July following a series of scandals and amid growing conflict, remains president of the foundation.
As Larry Benz, president of the “old” board of trustees pointed out last week, Ramsey’s continuing presence at the foundation will make it very, very difficult to recruit and hire a first-rank candidate to replace him as president of the university.
Kentucky needs the University of Louisville, an institution that made huge strides during Ramsey’s 14 years at the helm.
But Ramsey has resigned and if he wants to honor the institution that he’s served, and benefited from (at almost $1.7 million, his 2014 pay was one of the highest in the nation) he must step down from any role at the foundation. No good will come from his continuing as a sort of shadow president from a perch at the foundation.
Bevin, likewise, must accept that U of L will be better served if he stops trying to micromanage the university’s business, drops his challenge to Shepherd’s ruling and fills the three positions open on the “old” board. That would go a long way to removing the accreditation cloud and reaffirm which board has the right and obligation to make decisions going forward.
And that board must assert its sole authority to oversee U of L and determine compensation for its employees. The foundation has been making significant payments to the president and his staff, among other questionable activities, without the board’s knowledge or approval. Just as an extra president lurking in the wings would damage the institution, so does an unaccountable foundation with a big checkbook.