Pronouncing a “fresh start” for the controversy-plagued University of Louisville, Gov. Matt Bevin announced Friday that President James Ramsey would be leaving, along with the entire board of trustees.
At a news conference in front of his Capitol office, Bevin said he’d signed an executive order dismissing the university’s board members. Later Friday, Ramsey released a statement saying he would resign.
Bevin said he will ask the Governor’s Postsecondary Education Nominating Committee to submit 30 names to him within two weeks after they meet, and from that, he will select 10 board members. In a subsequent news release, Bevin said that the General Assembly will have to approve the reorganization when it meets again in 2017.
The board has had 20 members. With Bevin’s new setup, the board will have 10 members appointed by the governor, plus a member of the teaching faculty, a permanent staff member and a student member serving as president of the student body, for a total of 13.
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In the interim, Bevin said, he was appointing businessman Junior Bridgeman, attorney Bonita Black and Dr. Ron Wright — all of Louisville — to an interim board until he appoints all members. The governor said he would like to see their names on the list of nominees from the council.
Asked whether he sought Ramsey’s departure, Bevin said he has had conversations for months with many people, including Ramsey, about U of L, and the “culmination of all the conversations I’ve had with everybody on all fronts is what I just announced to you.”
Bevin released a letter from Ramsey dated Thursday. Ramsey, who has been the university’s president since 2002, said he appreciated the recent conversation with the governor and, “upon a legal restructure of the board of trustees at the University of Louisville, I will immediately offer, to the newly appointed board, my resignation/retirement.”
That statement was also in a news release from Ramsey on Friday afternoon.
Attorney General Andy Beshear said late Friday that Bevin took “unprecedented actions” at the U of L board and revamping of the board that oversees the state pension systems.
“Lawmakers mandated that these boards be independent,” Beshear said. “My office is therefore closely reviewing today’s actions.”
State Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, said he thinks the governor is on shaky legal ground and that someone will sue, as has happened over other Bevin actions.
“What’s important to note is there needs to be reform at the University of Louisville; there is some dysfunction over there and we want it to succeed,” said McGarvey, who is a lawyer. “But I think there are real questions of whether a governor can wipe out the entire board of an independent state agency.”
For example, the state statute directly addressing U of L’s board says there “shall be” 17 members appointed by the governor, and he is appointing a three-member interim board.
“I think there’s a question of whether he’s legally able to do that, and whether he should be able to do that,” McGarvey said. “And I would question that of all governors.”
Bevin said Ramsey, 67, was out of the country Friday on university business. He could not be immediately reached for comment.
Ramsey is willing to step down immediately but wants the new board to be in place, Bevin said.
“Perhaps they could ask him to serve for some time,” Bevin said.
The governor said the U of L board was no longer functional.
He said it must be reorganized to improve efficiency, economy and, “frankly, to improve the administration of the university.”
The governor did not notify the trustees of their removal. He said they would learn from news reports.
Two trustees who opposed Ramsey held a news conference later Friday. Craig Greenberg and Emily Bingham, both of Louisville, said the administration and board were clearly dysfunctional because, for example, they were not given adequate information and were told not to ask questions in public. They also confirmed that they were told nothing about the changes in advance and learned of their dismissals from Twitter.
“This is not an ideal outcome,” Bingham said. Getting answers about Ramsey’s compensation took a year, and that answer “was wrong,” Bingham said. Louisville media outlets have reported that Ramsey’s total compensation is as much as $2 million because of supplements from the U of L Foundation. State Auditor Mike Harmon is investigating the foundation.
When asked whether they thought Ramsey would end up staying on with the new board, Greenberg said: “We hope we can take today’s announcement at face value and that no games are being played.
“What is important for this university is that it undergo a very thorough national search and find the best person to lead this university forward,” he said.
Bingham also issued a statement that called for a new leader.
“The future health of the University of Louisville — its ability to move forward from an administration that routinely compromised proper governance oversight and repeatedly failed to communicate effectively with stakeholders at critical moments — depends on a thorough change of administrative leadership,” she wrote.
Bevin said the changes had nothing to do with the prostitution scandal involving the school’s basketball program.
In recent years, the university has been mired in several high-profile controversies. They include high pay for Ramsey and some of his top staffers; several employees, including a dean, being convicted of embezzlement; misuse of funds by the alumni director; and accusations of racial insensitivity after the president and his staff had Mexican sombreros at a Halloween party. Most recently, the finance committee declined to vote on the proposed 2016-17 budget because of a 5 percent tuition increase, and asked the administration to come back with another version.
Asked what was the “tipping point” for the governor to make such widespread changes at U of L, Bevin said it was “a culmination of many things.”
Bevin said he has not talked to anyone about being the next president of U of L and had no one in mind for the job.
The next president should be the No. 1 “apologist, cheerleader and emissary” for the university, he said.
Bevin praised Ramsey for the gains at the University of Louisville during his tenure in the areas of academics and research.
U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Louisville, said in a statement that Ramsey has been “an outstanding president for the University of Louisville who has dramatically transformed our school from a fine local institution into a nationally acclaimed one, renowned for academics and research.”
McConnell said he wishes Ramsey “the very best.”
Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said, he agreed with Bevin that U of L needs a fresh start.