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The University of Louisville’s Faculty Senate voted on Wednesday to conduct an online poll of its 66 members to gauge whether they support a vote of no confidence in President James Ramsey’s leadership, though before the meeting concluded, many faculty members spoke up to air either criticism or support for their embattled president.

The U of L Board of Trustees is scheduled to vote on a motion expressing no confidence in Ramsey at its next meeting on April 20, but that meeting may be pushed back if Gov. Matt Bevin has not yet appointed two new minority members to bring the body into compliance with state law. Ramsey critics among the trustees have taken issue with his administration in the face of transparency concerns and a barrage of negative news coverage over the past year — including a whistleblower lawsuit from a former compliance officer, the federal investigation of executive vice president of health affairs Dr. David Dunn, and previously undisclosed multi-million dollar compensation packages given to Ramsey and his staffers.

Dr. Pamela Feldhoff, the faculty representative on the Board of Trustees who will have a vote on the no-confidence motion, said the upcoming vote among faculty senators will be used to inform her vote.

While several faculty senators expressed their need to obtain more information before they cast their vote in the online poll, a number of them publicly aired their opinion on the no-confidence motion at Wednesday’s meeting. Of those faculty speaking up, the majority indicated they no longer have confidence in Ramsey.

Before those opinions were raised, senators from each college revealed the results of online polls amongst their faculty, with most of them indicating a majority of faculty who completed the poll support a vote of no confidence. As previously reported, a large majority of faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences — the largest college at U of L — support a no-confidence vote, as did a majority of faculty in the Brandeis School of Law. Five other colleges or departments represented on the senate indicated a majority of respondents supported a no-confidence vote, including the College of Business, U of L Libraries, the School of Nursing, the College of Education, and part-time professors. A majority of faculty in the Speed School of Engineering and Public Health & Information Sciences opposed the no-confidence vote, while the School of Medicine was split among its departments. The faculty of other departments were either not polled or the results of their poll were not shared publicly.

After the decision to conduct a poll among faculty senators was reached, there was a lengthy discussion in which members expressed their personal views on Ramsey and the no-confidence motion.

Dr. Tom Simmons of the College of Education said he has spoken to many faculty who say it has come to a point where they are almost apologetic about saying where they work “because of the multitude of issues that have carried on for the last several years.” He later referenced his college’s former dean, Robert Felner — who was sent to prison for embezzling money from the university — noting that Ramsey angrily dismissed the faculty’s vote of no confidence for Felner and supported him up to the day the FBI seized his files.

“In my opinion, there has been a historical perspective of not necessarily respecting faculty,” Simmons said of Ramsey.

Dr. David Owen of the College of Arts and Sciences said U of L deserves a better leader whom everyone at the university can rally behind, especially with the state’s current budget crisis and proposed cuts from the Bevin administration working its way through the General Assembly.

“I think we really need a leader who can represent us at our best,” said Owen. “Unfortunately for various reasons over the past year, our president hasn’t been at his best in front of the press. He’s been angry and bullying towards the press, and I don’t think that represents us well as the face of the university. I think that’s terribly problematic.”

Another faculty member from the School of Nursing countered that point, saying, “President Ramsey certainly has been effective and knowledgable and skilled in dealing at the state level with budget issues, with raising money for the school, with keeping revenue for the school. And regardless of who is our president, this is an uncertain time with the state legislature and the governor, and I’m just concerned … about making a transition at this time.”

Dr. Ben Foster of the College of Business then spoke up to say there is a wealth of evidence to back up his support for a vote of no confidence, while noting that some faculty are hesitant to speak because they fear “repercussions” if Ramsey stays in power.

“How much evidence do you need?” asked Foster. “We have a former dean that I think is out of jail now. We have some people who are in jail for malfeasance. We have people under investigation by the FBI. We have an NCAA investigation and all of that going on … It all starts at the tone at the top. And I think that over the last 10 years that we have seen plenty of evidence of things that are just not done properly, or skirted around the law, or even done differently for administrators than for the rest of us.”

Dr. Terri Holtze from U of L Libraries concurred with Foster’s points on the atmosphere of fear in speaking against Ramsey, noting the nondisclosure agreements and payouts to former employees, the internal provost search, the response to student concerns about diversity, and “the general war he has declared with the press.”

“I agree that President Ramsey has done a lot of great things for this university, but over the past year I think he has shown a remarkable lack of respect for our students and our faculty,” said Holtze.

Dr. Kevin Walsh of the School of Engineering defended Ramsey, noting the majority of faculty polled in his college still have confidence in his leadership. He noted that Ramsey has transformed U of L from a commuter school into a nice residential campus, along with competing with the University of Kentucky for better students, increasing its graduation rate and increasing federal grants.

“It’s not like we have some national reputation against us,” said Walsh. “When I look at it, I see the big picture of what has happened here. I can’t defend some of the things that some of you say, but I just say you need to look at the big picture of what’s happened over the last 13 years and where we were.”

Dr. Kurt Metzmeier of the School of Law countered that the no-confidence vote is not a “historical assessment” of Ramsey, but rather a look ahead to the university’s future. While agreeing that Ramsey made strides early in his tenure, he no longer has confidence in Ramsey’s ability to move the school forward, making the analogy of a sports team that must fire its coach in order to turn the team around.

“Does anyone that would vote for confidence believe that President Ramsey is going to turn it around with the press, is going to restore the university’s view nationally, that we’ll be able to get a fresh start with him at the helm at this point?” asked Metzmeier. “There’s no joy in saying this, because I’ve seen those successes, I’ve looked around and seen those things happen. But we’re at a point now that whenever there’s a story about U of L, there’s always this recap of everything that’s happened, and it’s growing and growing. And for a reboot of our reputation, it seems to be the time that we need a change in the president.”

Dr. Roger Bradshaw of the School of Engineering acknowledged there have been issues recently but said they could have happened under any president. He also questioned whether U of L would be able to bring any quality president to the university if Ramsey left, considering the environment such a president would be entering.

“What comes next?” asked Bradshaw. “If we go through with this and push Dr. Ramsey out, with this board and the current political climate, what do we get next?”

Metzmeier countered that U of L is still a great university and did not buy the argument that no one would want the job. He added, “If nothing else, our salary survey of presidents will indicate that,” a reference to Ramsey being paid much more than presidents of other peer universities that drew laughs.

Dr. Beth Bradley of the Department of Mathematics took issue with the criticism of Ramsey, saying it feels like “a mob mentality.”

“I feel like he’s been a good leader,” said Bradley. “Maybe he’s at the end, maybe he’s tired, maybe he shouldn’t stay much longer. Maybe all of that, but this no confidence, this anger and this emotion that I’ve been feeling with all of the emails back and forth and all of this … I think it’s detrimental to the university. I think it’s detrimental to our morale. I think it’s detrimental to the human being that is Jim Ramsey, who has done so much for our university. I would just like to see things take a natural course that is more calm than this.”

Dr. Brad Keller in the School of Medicine defended Ramsey, in addition to taking a shot at the media for being negative and unnamed faculty senators who “provide information to the media.”

“I would have to say I’ve not felt good about the stories I’ve read in the press about the university,” said Keller. “Whether that’s because it sells newspapers, whether that’s because there are biases in the community relative to the university … But of all the places that I’ve lived, this is the most negative community I’ve ever seen in how the press treats the university.”

Faculty representative Pamela Feldhoff says she expects to have the results of the online survey of faculty senators before the next scheduled Board of Trustees meeting on April 20, and she did not share her personal views on the no-confidence motion.

John Karman, the spokesman for Ramsey — who was out of town Wednesday and could not attend the meeting — issued the following statement:

“Dr. Ramsey has been a staunch supporter of faculty. Through 15 budget cuts, UofL has had no campus-wide layoffs or furloughs. He has worked to raise the research profile of the university and has raised a tremendous amount of money for research, endowed chairs and endowed professorships. The campus is transformed under his leadership, making it a better place for faculty to work. We’re also getting ready to build a much needed classroom building. Dr. Ramsey’s background in finance has enabled him to manage the business of the university during turbulent economic times.”

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Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]