September 11, 2016

U of L Foundation devalued under Ramsey

By Kyeland Jackson —

Under former University of Louisville President James Ramsey, the U of L Foundation’s performance has stalled.

The Courier-Journal first reported the findings Saturday, citing comparisons to endowment managers for other universities.

According to the article, the value of the foundation dropped by 19 percent, $131 million, in the past six years. Just this year the foundation lost $66.2 of it’s endowment to university needs and bad market investments. Reports Ramsey made during his time with the university misrepresented losses by the university, which were attributed to an turbulent economy. But other universities, including the University of Kentucky, Indiana University and Spalding, performed well under the same conditions.

The foundation has been in the crosshairs since news of Ramsey’s compensation packages hit last year.

The foundation is being audited by Kentucky Auditor Mike Harmon, who’s investigating transactions made between the university and the foundation. Two major donors threatened to pull funding from the foundation unless it hires an independent auditor to look at its records. One of those donors, the James Graham Brown Foundation, accounts for more than $76 million in ULF assets. Junior Bridgeman, a ULF trustee, is a trustee on the Brown Foundation Board of Trustees too.

Lost funds could mean less for project funds, but Acting Provost Dale Billingsley said they should not affect the Brown Fellows program.

“An individual student may be affected if a funded project is reduced–it’s just not possible to say for sure about a coincidental effect,” Billingsley said in an email.

The program gives financial support, travel, enrichment opportunities and mentorship to 40 students at U of L. The Brown Foundation has partnered with U of L for upwards of 55 years.

U of L’s board upped the pressure, threatening to sue the foundation if it did not supply documents for an independent auditor to review its finances. Board Chair Larry Benz pointed to a $38 million loan the university made to the foundation, saying the foundation lacks transparency.

“We got to this point because the U of L Foundation lost its mission,” Benz said. “We have to become a university where common sense becomes common practice.”

Ramsey said he wants to remain on the foundation after his contract with the university was bought out. Benz and university donors questioned Ramsey’s foundation position, saying it’s “inappropriate” for a former university president to preside over the university’s endowment.


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