By Kyeland Jackson —
The University of Louisville Foundation abruptly canceled a last-minute executive session 10 minutes before they were going to meet on Monday. Many thought the meeting would discuss removing James Ramsey as its president.
The unusual Labor Day meeting was scheduled Friday to decide who would audit the foundation and discuss personnel matters.
Foundation chair Dr. Robert Hughes canceled the meeting after receiving a letter from U of L Board of Trustees Chair Larry Benz. Benz condemned any personnel action without the full board and claimed the university should decide who should audit the foundation.
In the letter, Benz reminded the foundation board of its obligations to the university, and denounced Ramsey’s position on the foundation board.
“As a fiduciary that is obligated to act for the primary benefit of the University, the continued payment by the foundation of any money, which is money that is held by the foundation for the benefit of the university, to Ramsey or Smith, is not proper as it is not a use of money that benefits the university,” the letter said.
Rumors of offices being built for Ramsey and his chief of staff Kathleen Smith began shortly after he said he wants to remain the foundation’s president.
Benz said he didn’t threaten legal action to prevent the meeting.
“I do believe that certain personnel matters, as outlined in the bylaws of University of Louisville Foundation, do require full board approval rather than just executive committee,” Benz said in an email.
The meeting was scheduled after a major donor threatened to pull funding. The James Graham Brown Foundation asked for an independent audit of the U of L Foundation. The Brown Foundation’s letter cited worries of the foundation’s governance and use of funds. It specifically pointed to a $38 million loan the foundation received from the university without the U of L Board of Trustees’ consent.
“On behalf of the James Graham Brown Foundation, we want to express our concern that expenditures may have been made that were not exclusively for the charitable and educational purposes of the university,” the letter said.
“We also believe that the governance of ULF and its relationship with the university do not represent current best practices for the governance of colleges and universities.”
The Brown Foundation has been a long-time U of L partner, donating more than $72 million in the past 55 years. While the Brown Foundation threatened to pull its major funding, they will continue to fund the Brown Fellows Program. The program gives financial support, travel, enrichment opportunities and mentorship to 40 students at U of L.
Acting Vice President Dale Billingsley has been involved with the program since the first recruited class. He said the audit my threaten projects on campus, but not 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 university foundation has been in hot water since reports of compensation packages to Ramsey and senior staff surfaced last year. Shortly after, Kentucky’s auditor began investigating transactions between U of L and the foundation. That audit continues.
Another audit by the Internal Revenue Service asks to review the accounts of Ramsey, former provost Shirley Willihnganz and the head coaches of the university’s basketball and football teams. Willihnganz was paid almost $1.8 million by the foundation. Ramsey’s foundation bonuses have amounted to nearly $8 million.
University spokesperson John Karman said the IRS audit is routine, citing a 1991 audit the IRS conducted. That audit resulted in a $1.1 million settlement, with more than half accounted to “unrelated business income tax.”
File photo / The Louisville Cardinal