Using deferred compensation packages as a retention incentive for university presidents is not uncommon. Using them as a retention incentive for other high-ranking university personnel is much less common but not completely out of the ordinary.
Still, reports from Louisville's WDRB-41 on deferred payments to University of Louisville President James Ramsey and a couple of his top aides should be enough to raise a few eyebrows, especially in the state auditor's office.
Millions of dollars in deferred payments to Ramsey, Chief of Staff Kathleen Smith and Provost Shirley Willihnganz from the university's foundation were first reported in February by The Courier-Journal and Insider Louisville.
But another look by WDRB found deferred payments to the three that had been backdated by up to four years and credited with investment returns at a rate equal to the returns on the foundation's investments during that period.
The payments were further enhanced by "gross up" amounts to cover income taxes on the deferred compensation.
WDRB also found that University Holdings Inc., a creation of the university foundation, paid Willihnganz $78,685 and Smith $64,297 for working an average of two hours a week during the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012.
Nice job, if you can get it.
Ramsey's other perks provided by the foundation include a $1 million life insurance policy, a long-term care insurance policy covering up to $100,000 a year for life, "gross up" payments to cover any income taxes on his insurance plans and a $12,000 annual car allowance for his wife.
And in 2005, the foundation gave Ramsey $1.2 million to compensate him for the lump sum pension payout he could have received if he had retained his old job in state government instead of becoming U of L president.
Worse still, WDRB found that, when former Vice Chairman Burt Deutsch resigned from the foundation board in 2013, Ramsey (also president of the foundation) awarded him a $120,000-a-year contract as a foundation consultant.
No bids. No board approval. No problem. Coincidentally, Deutsch is one of two foundation board members (the other is now dead) who signed off on amendments to Ramsey's contract, including the $1.2 million retirement payout.
What WDRB didn't find was much in the way of records authorizing the deferred compensation payments. Nor much in the way of reasonable explanations for the retroactive investment returns or the no-bid consulting contract.
An attorney for the foundation rationalized the retroactive returns by saying his understanding was the foundation board approved the payments in closed session on earlier dates but drawing up the contracts was delayed for "workload" reasons.
Really? Contracts got delayed up to four years by workload?
The current foundation board chairman said he was aware of Deutsch's status as a consultant but did not know his contract was not bid nor approved by the board.
The amounts involved in the deferred payments, Ramsey's perks and the no-bid consulting contract are dwarfed by the foundation's $1.1 billion in assets and the more than $100 million it provides U of L in annual operating support.
Yet the money could generate more scholarships, hire more faculty or increase the pay of existing faculty members.
But it's going to those at the top of the food chain instead. And in ways that raise eyebrows.
Something appears to be broken at the University of Louisville. And someone needs to fix it.