September 16, 2016

U of L’s Foundation board shaken

U of L Foundation; ULF

U of L Foundation; ULF

By Kyeland Jackson —

The University of Louisville Foundation’s board implemented a major shakeup Friday.

James Ramsey, former University of Louisville president, resigned as president of the foundation. Ramsey’s letter praised the university’s progress. “While I appreciate the Foundation’s support, Jane and I have decided to continue with our initial plans – retirement,” the letter said.

“Jane and I are both grateful for the unique opportunity we had to serve this great university and community… We’ve moved from a regional urban university to one that is now nationally recognized… I am proud to have been part of the university’s growth and development,” Ramsey wrote.

Ramsey denounced reports of a $38 million loan the university made to the foundation, calling the reports false and damaging. Ramsey had said on July 27 he wanted to stay on the foundation board when he resigned from the university. That $690,000 buyout of his contract was negotiated by the short-lived board of trustees named by Gov. Matt Bevin but disbanded by a Franklin Circuit Court judge.

Foundation funding soared under Ramsey, jumping $115 million between 2002 and 2015. But a Courier-Journal article reveals foundation performance stalled 10 years ago, dropping ULF’s rank as a non-profit endowment manager. The foundation attributed losses to bad market investments, university needs and decreasing state appropriation, but local universities outperformed regardless of the state economy.

Foundation shakeups extended to the board too, as foundation chair Dr. Bob Hughes was replaced by Brucie Moore.

Hughes, a vocal Ramsey supporter, had served on the foundation for 11 years and plans to continue serving as a university trustee.

“I think it’s a very positive day today,” U of L Board of Trustees Chair Larry Benz said.

“We outlined several pathways, or a strategy, to restore the confidence of the public to the foundation. And several of those steps were taken today.”

The new foundation officers are:

  •  Brucie Moore – Chair
  •  Joyce Hagen – Vice Chair
  •  Margert Handmaker – Secretary
  •  Junior Bridgeman – Treasurer

Moore, an eight-year-veteran of the foundation board, said U of L and ULF have been troubled, but will move forward regardless.

“This university’s been here over 200 years. Yes, we’ve been rocky….but all major institutions that grow like this university has grown encounter some of these issues,” Moore said.

“Tomorrow is game day for our University of Louisville football team. It’s game day everyday on this university for our students faculty and staff and administrators. And we’re going to go forward.”

The shuffling comes days after Board Chair Larry Benz mandated the foundation make major changes. One mandated Kathleen Smith be placed on administrative leave, stripping her involvement with the foundation. Smith retired from the university yesterday, but will remain the foundation assistant secretary.

“Kathleen Smith is an exceptional lady,” Hughes said. “She’s served 45 years here at the university…she’s raised an excess of $165 million dollars….she’s exceptionally valuable and ever how kathleen smith is treated needs to be fair and respectful of that.”

Other mandates include hiring a forensic, internationally-recognized group to audit the foundation and documents on a $38 million loan be disclosed. The university loaned the $38 million to the foundation during Ramsey’s tenure with U of L. The university’s board of trustees say they were not informed about the loan, and Benz’s open records request on its details have yet to be fulfilled. To alleviate requests, the foundation will four more staff members.

“It’s a flood of records…It’s not that we’re avoiding trying to provide that information, it’s just technically impossible with the staff that we have,” Hughes said.

Ramsey’s involvement as president of the both the university and foundation drew ire and criticism from Benz and others. While the foundation presidency could still be taken by a university president, Moore, Benz and Hughes emphasized a need for autonomy between organizations.

The accused lack of transparency has kept the foundation in the crosshairs of various groups.

Yesterday the Kentucky Center for Investigative sued the foundation, citing struggles with obtaining records. The board of trustees even threatened to sue the foundation for lack of transparency, prompting Benz’s mandates for ULF to avoid litigation. Meanwhile, two major donors threatened to pull funding from the foundation as the university’s accreditation hangs in the balance.

The Southern Association for Schools and Colleges, U of L’s accrediting body, confirmed worries a month ago. SACS President Belle Wheelan said executive orders by Governor Matt Bevin may place the board in conflict with SACS mandates. Thursday, former SACS employee Patricia Cormier testified that Bevin’s acts, indeed, threaten U of L’s accreditation.

While the violations may not warrant U of L losing accreditation, it could lead to financial sanctions against the university.

The next board of trustees meeting is Sept. 22 at 9 a.m.

Photo credit Kyeland Jackson // The Louisville Cardinal

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