Bevin’s new U of L board confused

August Rodin’s The Thinker outside the University of Louisville’s Grawemeyer Hall
August Rodin’s The Thinker outside the University of Louisville’s Grawemeyer Hall University of Louisville

Gov. Matt Bevin’s promised fresh start for the University of Louisville stumbled out of the gate, as the newly and possibly illegally reconstituted Board of Trustees met for the first time Wednesday.

Still unclear is the fate of embattled President James Ramsey. In a June 16 letter to Bevin, Ramsey promised to resign or retire once a new board was legally seated. Last month when Bevin abolished the U of L board, he said Ramsey would “stand down.”

After the first meeting of the newly appointed board, chair Ulysses “Junior” Bridgeman told reporters that Ramsey had not offered to resign during a closed session and that the trustees need more information before deciding what to do about Ramsey.

Then on Thursday, Bridgeman issued a statement saying that Ramsey had offered his resignation; Bridgeman said he just didn’t understand at the time that’s what Ramsey was doing. Behind closed doors, Ramsey had read aloud the month-old, widely published letter he had sent Bevin. Bridgeman said that Ramsey told him on Thursday that he considered reading the letter to be offering his resignation.

The Courier-Journal has challenged the closed session, saying the reasons for it are not permitted under the Kentucky Open Meetings Act.

Bevin has yet to spell out his complaints with the board he abolished, except to say that it had become “operationally dysfunctional.” Bevin’s new board is still a far cry from “functional,” judging from the epic miscommunication between trustees and the veteran president.

Bevin took the extraordinary step of briefly attending the meeting, saying he wasn’t there to interfere but to thank the trustees; he again promised “a new day.”

So, a murky picture has gotten murkier, which is regrettable. U of L is vitally important to its 22,000 students, to Kentucky’s largest city and the whole state.

U of L’s Faculty Senate has condemned Bevin’s “rushed solution,” saying that U of L’s continued accreditation requires an independent board and that the governor’s action may compromise that independence and “damage the long-term interests of the university.” Also, the faculty reps warned, public universities will suffer if “regular reorganizations when any impasse arises” become the norm.

U of L’s governance is further clouded by a secretive foundation that supplemented Ramsey’s pay by $8 million from 2012 to 2014. In a questionable arrangement, Ramsey is president of the foundation. Bridgeman is its chair.

Before their ouster by Bevin, several trustees had pointedly questioned Ramsey’s leadership and why they were kept in the dark about potentially embarrassing matters including the full details of Ramsey’s compensation package.

Attorney General Andy Beshear is challenging Bevin’s board reorganization in court.

Like the U of L Faculty Senate, we hope for a “quick resolution.” Prolonged uncertainty is not good for any university.

Whoever turns out to be the real U of L trustees should take a lesson from Wednesday’s communication breakdown: A public university’s business should be conducted in public view.