Gov. Matt Bevin announced at a press conference Friday morning that University of Louisville President James Ramsey will step down from his position, and the governor signed an executive order to remove all members of the university’s Board of Trustees, which he will replace with his own appointees.
Bevin said his decision to appoint an entirely new Board of Trustees for the university was due to the “dysfunction” of the board, saying it was a hindrance to the university going forward.
“There have been a number of news stories — many of which you all have covered — that have been in the wind in recent months and, frankly, years as it relates to the University of Louisville that have shed less than the best light on the university and the commonwealth as a whole,” said Bevin. “The university’s Board of Trustees as it exists now is not particularly functional. Its dysfunction has precluded it from doing what its responsibility is, and that is to be effective fiduciary leaders of the university… And so today, I want to announce to you the fact that we are going to start putting the house in order.”
Bevin said the new board will have 13 members instead of 20 — as specifically required under state law — and he will appoint 10 of those members once he receives nominations from the Council on Postsecondary Education. Bevin asked that council to submit 30 names to him as soon as possible, and said he expects to appoint 10 new members to the board within two weeks.
The governor said none of the current board members were notified of his decision before his announcement.
Bevin added that he will appoint a three-member interim board in the meantime, which will include Louisvillians Junior Bridgeman, Bonita Black and Ron Wright. Bridgeman is a businessman and current board member of the University of Louisville Foundation, Black is an attorney with Steptoe & Johnson, and Wright is an OBGYN who works in Jeffersonville and volunteers at a crisis pregnancy center in Louisville.
Ramsey has faced a laundry list of scandals and negative stories over the past two years, as a growing number of critics on the Board of Trustees questioned his leadership and called for a vote of no confidence. Another faction of the board had fiercely defended Ramsey and blasted his critics on the board.
In Ramsey’s resignation letter to Bevin dated Thursday, he stated that “the members of a restructured Board compliant with state law should have the opportunity for a ‘fresh start,'” and he would immediately offer his resignation to a newly appointed board.
“As a result, upon a legal restructure of the Board of Trustees at the University of Louisville, I will immediately offer, to the newly appointed board, my resignation/retirement as President of the University of Louisville,” wrote Ramsey.
Bevin indicated that current trustees may return to the board if they are nominated by the Council on Postsecondary Education, and it is not known if the eventual members of the newly reconstituted board would accept a resignation from Ramsey.
Bevin’s press conference did not address whether Ramsey will remain as president of the UofL Foundation — the university nonprofit that gives him a multimillion compensation package — and Ramsey’s spokesman John Karman did not immediately know whether he would remain in that position.
Attorney General Andy Beshear, who already has tangled with the Bevin administration over several of their moves to change the composition of state boards, issued a statement indicating that his office is reviewing Bevin’s intention to reconstruct U of L’s board — as well as Bevin’s additional executive order late Friday afternoon to eliminate the board of the Kentucky Retirement Systems and create his own.
“Today Gov. Bevin took unprecedented actions directed at two important governing boards,” said Beshear. “Lawmakers mandated that these boards be independent. My office is therefore closely reviewing today’s actions.”
The state law on the structure of the University of Louisville Board of Trustees states that “Board members may be removed by the Governor for cause, which shall include neglect of duty or malfeasance in office, after being afforded a hearing with counsel before the Council on Postsecondary Education and a finding of fact by the council.”
Board chairman Larry Benz issued a statement supporting Bevin’s desire to give UofL a fresh start, adding that “I am grateful that I was able to serve the University as a Board member and pledge my continued support.”
UofL Trustee Emily Bingham — a prominent critic of Ramsey — released a statement saying that the future health of the university depends on a thorough change in leadership that is held accountable by its governing board, which now appears to be in Bevin’s hands, barring legal action to block this move.
“Public trust in the institution must be restored,” said Bingham. “The auditor’s report of the ULF-BOT governance practices due out very soon deserves close attention. This university is a precious asset to thousands of students, their families, faculty and staff, and our community as a whole. I have been honored to serve them; this responsibility now falls squarely on the shoulders of Governor Bevin.”
In a press conference along with Bingham, Trustee Craig Greenberg said he is “proud of the work of my reform-minded colleagues over the past several years and am hopeful that our collective efforts to increase transparency, improve governance, and rely on facts — not spin — were a catalyst for change that culminated in today’s announcement.”
Greenberg added that if Gov. Bevin shares their goals on improving transparency and accountability at UofL, “tomorrow he should also demand reform of the Board of Directors of the U of L Foundation and ensure that it, too, also has a new president. Without a new team and a new level of transparency at the Foundation, the governor’s actions today will be for naught. The level of financial arrogance and deception at the UofL Foundation is alarming.”
Trustee Stephen Campbell — another critic of Ramsey’s transparency with the board, particularly regarding his compensation from the Foundation — echoed Greenberg’s sentiments, adding that their push for reform and accountability was not the cause of dysfunction, and that they were exercising their proper role in the university’s shared governance.
“It is not dysfunctional for trustees to exercise their fiduciary duties in the face of self dealing, poor governance and an opaque university/foundation relationship rife with real and potential conflicts,” said Campbell. “I believe my fellow reform-minded trustees and I have worked hard to represent the best interests of the University of Louisville, taxpayers, students and faculty. While I welcome the opportunity for a new president for UofL, there cannot truly be a fresh start without a similar level of governance reform at the foundation. The citizens of Kentucky deserve no less.”
Below is the full resignation letter that Ramsey sent to Gov. Bevin, as well as Bevin’s executive orders to reconstruct the Board of Trustees and set up an interim three-member board: