University of Louisville Board of Trustees members Steve Campbell and Craig Greenberg publicly withdrew their names from a 2015 letter of support for President James Ramsey in their meeting on Thursday, citing negative events and circumstances surrounding the university that have occurred since they signed the letter last September.
“I’m broadly supportive of the audit, which our new state auditor is going to be conducting (on the U of L Foundation), but I do have to withdraw my letter of support for President Ramsey,” said Campbell in the board meeting. “We were asked to sign that in September, and since then there have been material issues with the university. I’m not going to list them, you all are aware of them. And as a result, I feel like the circumstances have changed. I’m happy to stand alone, and I do it with all due respect.”
Campbell did not stand alone, as Greenberg immediately followed with a statement doing the same, suggesting that the 2015 letter was being used to inoculate Ramsey from criticism.
“I too feel as if many events have changed since we signed this last September,” said Greenberg. “This document that we signed last September is now being used as a prop by other members of this board, and I too hereby withdraw my signature of support from that resolution.”
The letter they referred to was passed as a resolution by the board on Sept. 4, stating that Ramsey has their “continuing full support and confidence,” though also requesting that the Foundation “review its organizational structure and governance including enhancement of collaboration with the Board of Trustees.”
None of the other 18 trustees spoke up to withdraw their names, and both Campbell and Greenberg declined to elaborate on their reasoning to reporters following the meeting. Ramsey also declined to speak with reporters, but the university did issue a statement immediately after the meeting in which Ramsey said that “the two trustees (out of 20) who spoke up are entitled to their opinion and I respect their positions, but we have broad disagreements on how best to provide a high-quality public education.”
Trustee and chair of the U of L Foundation Robert Hughes addressed the media following the meeting, affirming his support for Ramsey and referring to Campbell and Greenberg as a minority faction of dissidents among the board.
“I just want to make sure that any minority members of the board are not able to garner any more influence than they would deserve,” said Hughes. He later told WDRB that since Campbell and Greenberg couldn’t work with university leadership, they should resign.
Board chairman Larry Benz also reaffirmed his support of Ramsey, but added that the trustees all have varying opinions and Campbell and Greenberg are “entitled to their thoughts and opinions, and I fully respect them.”
The board did not discuss or vote on a resolution that was circulated among members and reported on this week, which would have stripped Ramsey of his dual role as president of the U of L Foundation, the university’s $1.1 billion nonprofit. Such a dual role as president of both the university and its foundation is a rarity among other university presidents, as is the large compensation of Ramsey from the Foundation.
While Ramsey strongly criticized this resolution on Wednesday by arguing it would harm the university’s finances and that the board should wait until state Auditor Mike Harmon’s review of the Foundation is complete, Chairman Benz told reporters he and a “significant number of board members” generally supported “decentralizing” the president’s power when it came to the Foundation.
“It’s illogical to me that in today’s day of transparency, that you would have a president that is president of both (the university and foundation), a permanent member of the nominating committee, and a voting member of the executive committee,” said Benz. “But there’s all kinds of variations amongst those scenarios that work. So that’s not a direct response to the motion, which is a little more pointed than that. But as we all know, motions start at one area and they end at one area. I personally would be supportive of something that decentralizes, or loses that concentration of powers. And I would be in favor of that whether President Ramsey was president or 15 years ago when he wasn’t president.”
Asked if that opinion was in direct opposition to Ramsey’s opinion on the matter, Benz replied that “we have not had a deep, candid and robust discussion about the concepts of the decentralization of powers, or the over-concentration of powers. And I’m anxious to hear his thoughts and opinions on it… I believe that if you look at our peers… our current structure is not mainstream, it is not typical.”
Benz also said he supported the continuation of the state auditor office’s review of the U of L Foundation, saying its scope should extend “beyond just governance processes” and that the university should not wait for it to be completed before enacting reforms. Benz said it was important that the audit’s scope “includes internal review, that it includes management processes, that it asks important questions about our spend rate compared to other foundations’ spend rate. That it asks questions about how we represent the amount of money from the Foundation into our university budget.” Asked if the audit’s scope should specifically include financial management, he answered “absolutely.”
Referring to the past year of controversies and negative stories concerning Ramsey and the university, Benz said that during the board’s nearly two-hour closed executive session they “looked at all of the events — which quite frankly are unrelated to one another – everything from biosafety to federal investigations. We’ve been called into question now by two editorials that said ‘is the board doing their job?’ Well one of the things I wanted to make sure of as board chairman is that when we went into that executive session today, that we gave every board member a chance to look at these situations that have been challenging and problematic.”
“It would be foolish to say that nothing’s happened and this is just the greatest time in the world,” said Benz. “And you guys are very used to my optimism. But at the same time, it’s incumbent upon our board as trustees and our fiduciary obligation to challenge our senior administrators and our president and say ‘these are the issues, what have we now put in place to make sure that they don’t happen again.’”
This story has been updated.