By Olivia Krauth and Kyeland Jackson —
U of L President James Ramsey will step down and the entire board of trustees will be replaced, Governor Matt Bevin announced Friday morning–surprising even the trustees, who were not told beforehand.
Bevin said Ramsey will be stepping down in part of larger shake up. A letter from Ramsey to Bevin, dated June 16, said Ramsey will offer his resignation to a new, legally-constituted board once they have been appointed by Bevin.
“I am grateful for Governor Bevin’s support and commitment to addressing difficult issues that are crucial to moving Kentucky forward,” Ramsey said, referring to conversations with Bevin.
Ousted board members Craig Greenberg and Emily Bingham spoke to media in Grawemeyer Hall hours after the announcement. Both said they were surprised, and not contacted beforehand about their positions being terminated.
“This is not the ideal outcome,” Bingham said. The two board members also said they were concerned that “games are not being played,” and have not ruled out legal action if Bevin’s order is deemed illegal.
Greenberg also advised a sweep of U of L’s Foundation, which is currently under state audit.
“If Governor Bevin shares these goals, tomorrow, he should also demand reform of the board of directors of the U of L Foundation and ensure that it, too, also has a new president,” Greenberg said.
“I am supportive of Governor Bevin’s actions this morning and desire to give the University of Louisville a fresh start,” Larry Benz, the now former board chair, said. “I am grateful that I was able to serve the University as a board member and pledge my continued support.”
For now, Bevin has appointed a three person interim board. Interim trustees are businessman Junior Bridgeman, attorney Bonita Black and Dr. Ron Wright.
Bevin said the shake up is to start fresh with U of L, saying the problems are academic, administrative and athletic. He did not directly address any athletic issues, including the men’s basketball stripper scandal.
KRS 164.821, the state law regarding U of L’s Board of Trustees, requires 17 governor-appointed trustees, along with a student, faculty and staff representative. His executive order reduces the board from 20 total members to 13, with 10 of those appointed by him – a move in conflict with state law.
Attorney General Andy Beshear’s office is investigating the legality of Bevin’s decision.
“Today Gov. Bevin took unprecedented actions directed at two important governing boards. Lawmakers mandated that these boards be independent. My office is therefore closely reviewing today’s actions,” Beshear said in a statement.
State Senator Morgan McGarvey called Bevin’s actions “an incredible overreach,” and said they break state laws regarding board appointments. Former Attorney General Jack Conway, who lost the gubernatorial race to Bevin in November, said Bevin is on “shaky legal ground,” and that executive orders can’t override state statutes.
Students and faculty on campus expressed shock and acceptance at news of Ramsey’s offer to resign, with one calling the situation a “double-edged sword.”
“I’m surprised it took this long,” sophomore Elijah Bower said.
“I commend Ramsey for the work that he has done here and thank him for his service,” senior Aaron DuVall said. “With that being said, U of L and many of its students and faculty are ready for a fresh start.” DuVall added he thinks the new board will “find unnecessary spending in the face of the proposed five percent tuition hike” that the former board overlooked.
U of L’s SGA released a statement, calling the situation “unique and unprecedented.”
“We look forward to moving past political debates and focusing on what really matters: students,” the statement said. SGA President Aaron Vance remains a trustee in Bevin’s new board plan.
“We have a political administration in the state who has, at best, very questionable approaches to what it sees as healthy higher education. So of great concern to me is what will a new board of trustees look like. What type of person does the governor think will make a good president,” Pan-African Studies chair Ricky Jones said.
Jones added that with no permanent provost and no board to approve a provost, the situation calls for school deans to step up as leaders, asking them to “be a whole lot braver.”
“If we go down the path that a lot of universities have gone down, and appoint a politico, a lawyer, a businessman to the presidency of this university, I think we’re in big trouble,” Jones said.
The announcement comes days before a scheduled board meeting on June 21, where trustees were supposed to consider U of L’s 2016-17 budget, set to begin July 1.
As reported by the Cardinal June 16, Ramsey intended to submit three budget scenarios to the board. His 5:20 p.m. campus email blast gave no indication of today’s developments.
The president is currently out of the country on an alumni cruise, his office reported.
U of L and Ramsey have been in hot water for the past year, starting with reports of Ramsey’s high compensation last summer. A series of scandals and a discussed vote of no confidence followed.
Nick Amon and Dalton Ray contributed to this story.
Photos by Sarah Rohleder / The Louisville Cardinal