Ramsey shares pride and frustration with U of L students and staff
By Simon Isham–
The State of the University Ceremony kicked off at 2:15 p.m. with a processional of faculty, dressed in academic regalia and escorted by the University Drum Corps. Their route led them along the side of the Red Barn, around the West Lawn, and past the Rauch Planetarium. When they reached the School of Music, where the speech was to be held, all faculty, staff and student observers passed through an aisle flanked by drummers and filed into Comstock Hall for President Ramsey’s address.
The first to take the stage was Dr. Joseph Steffen of the biology department, who gave a reflection on the life of university friend and benefactor Owsley Brown Frazier who passed away this August. Steffen also gave an introduction for Student Government Association President Justin Brandt, who in turn introduced Ramsey.
Ramsey opened his remarks by thanking the faculty for their attendance and hard work, calling the State of the University Week events, which had been underway since Sept. 7, “A Celebration of Faculty.” He then told his audience that the purpose of the State of the University Address is to encapsulate the events of the previous year with a wide lens, noting both trial and triumph.
The president proceeded to say that the State of the University Week is an important time to ponder the contributions that certain individuals have made to the university and to credit those people. To this end, he referenced the fact that two years ago, the university had used the State of the University Program as an opportunity to celebrate the building of the College of Education and Human Development in the names of Woodford and Harriet B. Porter, as well as the christening of the College of Business in the honor of the late alumnus Harry Frazier.
Ramsey addressed his audience once more, and stated that:
“Faculty [are] the heart and soul of the academy. It is you who define UofL, and you make us special among higher education institutions. And it is you, our faculty, who endured the greatest burden from budget cuts, and the costs it imposes to the classroom and research laboratories.”
He then asked the 2012 recipients of the President’s Distinguished Faculty Award to rise and be recognized.
Ramsey gave further recognition to Provost Shirley Willihnganz, whom he compared to a football head coach for her team, the faculty. He presented her with and read from a plaque commemorating her 10 years of service to the university as provost and vice president.
He then turned towards the past, enumerating the university’s achievements over the past year, highlighting U of L’s ranking as 12th in the Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities Good Neighbors; ranking in the top 15 percent by the Carnegie Foundation; ranking in the top 15 percent as a military-friendly university; Arbor Day Tree Campus status; home to 8 Fullbright Scholarship winners; home to 25 total number of national scholarship winners; and Dr. Roberto Bolli’s spearheading of development on a four-university $9.56 million clinical cardio research grant.
Ramsey also listed the many cross-campus milestones that have been met, such as the 30th anniversary of the James Graham Brown Cancer Research Center; an addition to the College of Business which houses the Entrepreneurship and Equine programs; a record number of doctorate degrees awarded; the development of the Spinal Chord Injury program and of the Shelby Campus; a record ten Big East championship teams; the groundbreaking for a new student recreation center; a memorandum of agreement with the commanding officers at Fort Knox in an effort to expand educational opportunities for service men and women; and a partnership to help people in the poorest zip codes of America attain the dream of a college education.
The president also chose to address some of the many disappointments that came along with the past year, including rejection as a location for a Phi Beta Kappa chapter, failure to receive funding from the National Institutes of Health for a Clinical and Translational Research program and the disapproval of a co-asset merger of the University of Louisville Hospital with “partners who would help us include healthcare for the people of our state while generating academic support for our health sciences campus.”
Ramsey expressed his disappointment with another round of state budget cuts, adding that the cuts “were made more painful by the fact that Kentucky’s economy was growing—state revenues grew … 2012 [was] a year of continued loss of key faculty.”
Still in optimism for the future, Ramsey said that “We could say to our founders in 1798 that we were true to the course, true to the cause, true to the mission of being a center for advanced learning.” While he admitted his shock that the university had been unable to meet all of its goals—most especially cuts to financial aid, stagnation of the Cardinal Covenant program and a freeze on salary increases for faculty and staff—he also professed to be even more amazed at the achievements and hard work of the faculty, staff, and students at the university. “What you have done,” he said “can in spirit lift our community and state up in these difficult times.”
As an auxiliary to his previous statements, Ramsey told an anecdote about having traveled across the commonwealth to hear fourth grade students at J.B. Atkinson Academy for Excellence in Teaching and Learning give speeches about their college aspirations. The theme, he said, was resiliency. “It is for us to be like those students,” said Ramsey, “to be resilient in overcoming hardships and challenges.”
In return, he said, “We can pledge to you that we will never forget the people whose work it is to make this a great university. We pledge to you to do better, listening to you more intently than we have in the past, so that we do not forget the challenges that issue from problems that you face daily. We pledge to keep you better informed and engaged in the budget process. We pledge to you that as a campus we will come together as one to initiate discussion as we assess the future of the university. … I am absolutely convinced that the best days of the University of Louisville are yet ahead. Our best days are ahead of us because you are … the University of Louisville.”
Photo: Andy Carter/The Louisville Cardinal