The University of Louisville’s board of trustees is putting a clamp on perks offered to its president in the aftermath of the James Ramsey era.
A review of an offer letter signed by newly minted president Neeli Bendapudi shows that the school is limiting what will be included in her five-year contract. A university spokesman said the move was intentionally less than what was received by Ramsey, whose perks included raises and bonuses for high-ranking members of his staff and excess compensation through the school’s foundation.
“This board of trustees is very conscious of its responsibility to protect the financial resources of the university,” spokesman John Karman said when asked why the perks were less than that of Ramsey, who was forced to resign in July 2016 after he came under attack because of his lucrative compensation, secretive operating style and a series of scandals.
The letter was sent to Bendapudi on Thursday by J. David Grissom, chairman of the board of trustees, and signed by Bendapudi the same day. It was obtained Wednesday by Courier Journal under Kentucky’s open records law.
Included in the offer are 13 bullet points that detail the terms of employment, including salary, and stipulations if she wants to teach in the future. Bendapudi will sign an official contract before she starts on May 15.
The most notable detail is the requirement to live in Amelia Place — the university-owned mansion in the Cherokee Triangle. The mansion at 2515 Longest Ave. has long been used for fundraising events, dinners and other gatherings and functions, including ones for student groups.
Bendapudi toured the home before she was introduced as University of Louisville’s 18th president on Tuesday. Grissom told Courier Journal after her introductory press conference that she planned to live at the home, but he did not mention that it would be required by her contract.
“Dr. Bendapudi will be doing significant entertaining of donors, faculty, staff, students and other friends of the university so it makes sense for her to live in the president’s mansion,” Karman said Thursday.
The University of Louisville Foundation bought Amelia House for $250,000 in 1981 and renovated it, in both cases with donations from Humana co-founder David Jones Sr., according to Courier Journal archives. The foundation later purchased a carriage house at Ray and Ransdell avenues for $750,000 in 2007, and renovated it.
The letter states that Bendapudi should live in the home because the board believes it “is imperative that you perform substantial job responsibilities that extend beyond the typical workday.” She is expected to host distinguished guests and fundraisers, meet with faculty and students, and work on weekends and evenings at the home.
The university will pay for maintenance and operating expenses, including upkeep, groundskeeping, general maintenance and utilities, according to the letter. The school also will cover any income taxes.
The school’s three past presidents – Ramsey, Donald Swain and John Shumaker – were required to live at Amelia House but all three owned other homes, Courier Journal reported in 2015. The requirement was actually waived for Ramsey, in part because he had a daughter who was still in school at South Oldham High, a university official said at the time.
Ramsey told Courier Journal in 2015 that he viewed the mansion – which he called “the people’s house” – as an “asset” for the university, and, as with other assets, “we use it to fundraise.”
Ramsey famously was embroiled in a controversy related to a party at Amelia House. In 2015 he was photographed with his staff wearing sombreros, ponchos and fake mustaches that had been passed out by his wife for Halloween festivities. He and the university apologized after facing criticism.
Here are other details from the letter sent to Bendapudi on Tuesday:
She will be paid $775,000 a year in the first two years of her five-year contract, an amount that includes a $650,000 salary and $125,000 bonus that is guaranteed for the first two years, as previously reported by Courier Journal. She is also eligible for annual raises, as determined by the board of trustees.
If she is fired at any time “with cause,” she will not receive any severance benefits. If she is fired “without cause,” she will receive the equivalent of one year’s salary, split into 12 monthly payments over the course of a year.
The school granted her request to attend the Harvard Seminar for New Presidents and will pay for the program, tuition and travel expenses. The next seminar will be held from July 6-11, according to the program’s website, and tuition is $9,725 a person.
The university will appoint her as a tenured full professor, pending normal academic review and approval procedures. If she decides to become a faculty member following her presidency, she will receive 12 months of paid administrative leave to prepare her to teach, but only if she is president for at least five years. Her salary will be equal to the average of the three highest-paid full-time professors in the university’s business school.
The school approved her hiring a chief of staff. Bendapudi previously said that she would be bringing her chief of staff with her from the University of Kansas.