“It is not going to get any easier”: Ramsey holds forum for University of the 21st Century

By on October 13, 2014

U of L President James Ramsey discussed the challenges facing the university in a campus forum to update the faculty on the progress of the University of the 21st Century initiative.  The Floyd Theater was less than half full of faculty and staff for the event.

According to Ramsey, U of L is being held accountable by the Council on Postsecondary Education and Board of Trustees and is on a trajectory to increase academic standards.  He followed many of the themes used in his state of the university address and shared statistics on six-year graduation rate and ACT scores, which are becoming a common sight at similar U of L forums and events.  However, he said, this trajectory is not without economic challenges.

“It has not been easy and it is not going to get any easier,” said Ramsey.  “I do not see a very bright horizon in terms of state appropriations.”

State funding has seen a significant decrease in recent years, causing the university to look to capital campaigns, research funding, higher tuition and intellectual property rights.  According to Ramsey, higher education may even see another cut on top of the one passed by the 2014 Ky. General Assembly.

“We could take another cut this year,” he said.  “We are not very high on the pecking order when it comes to public policy.”

Ramsey, an economist, cited a struggling Kentucky economy and a lack of trust in the integrity of higher education as the reasons for this.  The university is currently receiving $2,000 less per student than it was in 2002, said Ramsey, which hinders the university as it pursues its University of the 21st Century initiatives.

“We cannot count on the state to give us money,” he said. “It is not going to happen.”

Pilot Programs

Much of the talk focused on pilot programs at the Health Sciences Campus and the Speed School.

J.B. Speed School Dean Neville Pinto, responding to what he called the “public de-funding of higher education,” discussed future Belknap Research Park and the GE FirstBuild micro-factory.

“This is about multidisciplinary co-creation,” he said, discussing how the way products are manufactured has completely changed thanks to developments such as 3D printing.  He said that he has been working with this progress has required collaboration with fields such as business, law and communication.

“We hope it will work,” said Ramsey.  “We are thinking about things a little differently than we have ever though about them before.”

Ramsey said that the project had approximately $250 million in funding, and expressed excitement about its potential.

“We believe that we can be a world class leader in this area.”

Pinto also discussed the Speed School Business Center, in which Speed School has integrated the business offices of its separate academic departments based on recommendations from an accounting firm.

Both Pinto and Ramsey discussed the challenges in creating the business center, including reports of issues of employee distrust in their superiors and questions about whether any jobs would be lost.  No jobs were lost in the creation of the business center.

According to Ramsey, other projects are also in the works in various academic units.

Faculty members express concerns

At the close of the event, faculty members were given the opportunity to ask questions or express concerns.

Most of the concerns were shared by Arts and Sciences professors, who were worried about funding for their scholarship, specifically in the less-funded arts areas.

“It is critical,” said Ramsey.  However, he stated that budgetary constraints have caused there to be significantly less research funding in this area.  He expressed hope that A&S faculty would work together to formulate their own pilot programs and research areas.

“Help us define where those areas are,” Ramsey said.

“We do value the A in A&S,” said Executive Vice President for Research and Innovation William Pierce, saying that despite this value, there were issues with funding arts scholarship.

Pierce explained that it does not make practical sense, due to budget limitations, for the university to spend money to be premier in areas such as the arts.

“We cannot all fit in the same boat,” he said.

Jennie Burnet, a Faculty Senator and anthropology professor, told Ramsey that her constituents felt left behind in the University of the 21st Century process due to a lack of leadership in A&S in recent years.

Ramsey said that he was happy to have the new A&S Dean Kimberly Kempf-Leonard to fill that leadership role. and plans for high A&S involvement in the process.

“We have got the leadership,” he said.  “We would be fools to head down a road and not have A&S as an integral part.”

Going forward in the University of the 21st Century plan, said Ramsey, he is looking to increase U of L’s endowment and discretionary funding to meet his goals.

Photo Courtesy University of Louisville

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