The University of Louisville board of trustees at a meeting on Thursday approved an agreement with the UofL Foundation to not sue the nonprofit tasked with managing the school’s endowment, while still leaving out the possibility of suing its former leadership for mismanagement uncovered in a scathing forensic investigation released in June.
In August, trustees chairman J. David Grissom had stated that a special litigation committee would decide within a month whether or not to sue former university and foundation president James Ramsey and his administration’s top officials, but on Thursday he again pushed back that timeline, citing the board’s need to collect more facts before taking any legal action.
The agreement approved Thursday without any dissenting votes among the trustees formally recognized the many governance reforms enacted by the new foundation leadership both before and after the release of the Alvarez & Marsal report.
A press release from UofL stated that these reforms increasing transparency and oversight “ensure that the excessive and improper spending that characterized prior foundation leadership will not occur again,” as “all of the parties cited for mismanagement have been removed from their positions.”
After Thursday’s meeting, Grissom told reporters that the agreement “does everything known to man to close the door to bad behavior at the foundation going forward,” as the leadership of both institutions “have locked arms, joined hands and committed to behaving in the right way” with best practices.
A joint statement from the UofL Foundation’s interim director Keith Sherman and board member Earl Reed called the agreement a vote of confidence by the trustees that the foundation’s new reforms “have addressed concerns over integrity, transparency and sound fiscal stewardship.”
“This agreement is a final step in rebuilding mutual trust between UofL and its Foundation, and will further instill donor confidence,” read the foundation officials’ statement. “It also is further proof that there is no better time to invest in the University of Louisville.”
While the agreement rules out litigation by the university against its own foundation — which was threatened last year when Ramsey and his allies still held power at the foundation — Grissom said Thursday that “we continue to look at causes of action against the (former) officers and directors of the foundation.”
While Grissom previously said that such potential litigation would be finalized this summer, he once again pushed back the timeline of such a decision, saying it was impossible to give a time frame due to “too many conflicting winds blowing, pro and con.
Asked what those conflicting winds were, Grissom said the university “does not yet have all of the facts involving various parties. And until there’s a reasonable passage of time, it will be difficult to make an informed decision about how to proceed, if at all.”
Grissom added that Alvarez & Marsal is no longer gathering such information related to a potential lawsuit, as this is being done by outside and internal counsel.
Former president Ramsey was forced to resign from his role at the foundation last fall, while the foundation board fired his former top aide, Kathleen Smith, and CFO Jason Tomlinson this summer, who were both mentioning prominently in the A&M report. Tomlinson is currently suing the foundation for wrongful termination, and the criminal division of the Kentucky Attorney General’s office began a probe of the foundation following the A&M report.
Grissom would not be bothered if presidential search finalist declined campus invite
The trustees at Thursday’s meeting also discussed altering their search process for a new president, which currently calls for requiring that the names of all applicants and finalists remain confidential outside of the 13 trustees until one is hired.
Trustee Bonita Black discussed two main recommendations, which mirrored what she expressed on Monday at a meeting of the board’s Listening Tour Subcommittee that she chairs. Responding to a wave of faculty complaints about the closed and secretive process, Black suggested allowing eight campus constituents to interview the finalists after signing a confidentiality agreement to not disclose their identity, as well as giving finalists the option of accepting an invite to openly meet with groups of faculty and students on campus.
Black’s recommendations did not elicit any objections from the trustees, though they did not conduct a vote to approve the changes. Grissom said after the meeting that these recommendations would be adopted in their search protocol.
Susan Jarosi, a professor of arts history and co-chair of the Presidential Search Faculty Consultation Committee, told reporters afterward that allowing eight more campus constituents to the interview process is a good step, but is “not a substitute for requiring finalists to visit with constituents on campus.”
Jarosi added that such reforms would still leave a closed search in place, in which UofL’s next president could be hired without stepping a foot on campus and having their identity known by anyone outside of the 21 interviewers.
After the meeting, Grissom said it was possible that the trustees would hire a new president who declined a campus invite, again defending his position that the best candidates would not apply for the job if their identity was revealed publicly.
“If we could find a sitting president who wants to have his identity protected during the search process, and we think he or she is the best candidate? asked Grissom. “It’s done all the time … We don’t want the next president to be searching for a job. We want somebody who we have to attract to this place and feels challenged by the opportunities here.”
Asked if he would be bothered if the finalist that was eventually hired had declined a visit, Grissom said he would not. However, Grissom said that if a finalist did come to campus, “it would probably be a mark in their favor.” When asked how much a campus visit would weigh for or against candidates, Grissom walked back that statement, saying, “I’m sorry I said that.”
The deadline for presidential applicants has now been pushed back to Feb. 15, with Grissom saying that he hopes to hire a permanent president by June 1.
Current interim president Greg Postel has indicated that he has applied for the position. At Thursday’s meeting, the trustees gave a glowing performance review for Postel, who took over in January after the departure of former interim president Neville Pinto. Grissom thanked Postel for his steady leadership in tumultuous and challenging times for the university.
New committee tasked with finding permanent athletics director
Also at Thursday’s meeting, Postel announced that UofL would create a 10-member committee to search for a permanent athletics director, though its members have not yet been selected. Vince Tyra was named interim athletics director in October after the firing of Tom Jurich in the wake of yet another embarrassing scandal surrounding the men’s basketball program.
Tyra’s contract is up at the end of 2018, and he has not yet indicated if he will pursue the job permanently.
In other UofL athletics news, the university has filed a counterclaim against former basketball coach Rick Pitino, seeking damages for revenue the school is expected to have to forfeit due to having up to 123 wins vacated by the NCAA, as part of its punishment for the program’s escort scandal while he was coach. UofL made its case for appeal to the NCAA’s infractions committee this week, seeking for its penalties to be lessened.