U of L trustees need to take notice

Tim Kelly
Tim Kelly

University of Louisville President Jim Ramsey’s “bumps in the road” op-ed last Sunday in The Courier-Journal and Monday in the Herald-Leader came off as a masterful attempt to deflect attention from the series of troubling incidents that have occurred on his watch.

Such as?

Embezzlement, self-dealing, hefty settlement payouts to departing high-level administrators, lawsuits, the Karen Sypher scandal, the rehiring of Bobby Petrino despite his very public fall from grace at Arkansas, the Mexican-themed Halloween costume fiasco and now investigations by both the NCAA and the FBI.

But it also appears to have been more than that — a pre-emptive strike at an unflattering piece that would appear Tuesday on the website Inside Higher Ed. More on that later.

I don’t know if there’s something rotten in Denmark, but something seems to be seriously amiss at U of L. Too much smoke for there not to be any fire.

It’s pretty telling when the head basketball coach during a 15-minute rant admits that “scurrilous things” have happened, ostensibly with prostitutes, all but throws a well-liked former player and assistant coach, Andre McGee, under the NCAA bus, then says he doesn’t care what people think. And it’s met with public silence from the athletics department and university administration.

It was even left to Rick Bozich and Pat Forde, both formerly of The Courier-Journal, to call out Rick Pitino about his desultory, juvenile behavior after the loss to the University of Kentucky — behavior hardly befitting anyone his age, let alone a Hall of Fame coach and the most visible face of the institution.

But that’s just sports.

Ramsey’s piece was followed, by one day, by a Courier-Journal story about another major U of L project — this one involving three business and research parks — being awarded by the U of L Foundation over only one other competitor to the company chaired by major U of L donor J.D. Nichols. Back in July, Nichols volunteered to “totally fund” incentive compensation for Ramsey and his top administrators. That last element wasn’t mentioned in the story, and Nichols’ donor status merited the barest of mentions.

Has this sort of stuff become so commonplace at U of L, and in Louisville, that nobody cares? Doesn’t anybody — especially the university’s Board of Trustees, most of whom have steadfastly stood behind Ramsey — see anything of concern in all this?

The Courier-Journal has reported episodically on the various issues that have arisen during Ramsey’s tenure, but its extended period without an editorial page editor or editorial writers has diminished an important layer of critical scrutiny of not just U of L but public life in general in Louisville and in Kentucky.

It also might be a very good thing for U of L that state Auditor Adam Edelen was defeated in November. Whether Edelen’s successor will pursue the office’s examination of the U of L Foundation with equal vigor, if at all, remains to be seen.

But U of L hasn’t escaped scrutiny totally, thanks in part to Inside Higher Ed, which has followed the C-J’s stories all along, and doing its own reporting. In the long and blistering piece on Tuesday, the first paragraph by Washington-based education reporter Kellie Woodhouse sets the tone: “How much has to go wrong at an institution before its top leaders are held accountable?”

The administration had to know that piece was coming because of the extensive interviewing that was done, and Ramsey himself had declined to comment for it. So the timing of his op-ed becomes not all that surprising.

Oh well, probably just another “bump in the road” on the Belknap Campus.

Or maybe it’s the jarring pothole that will finally get the attention of the people who drive the school bus: the board of trustees.

Tim Kelly is the past publisher of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

At issue: Jan. 4 commentary by University of Louisville President James Ramsey, “Bumps in road won’t change U of L’s mission, progress”