Education

University of Louisville President James Ramsey will step down, according to Gov. Matt Bevin.

The governor made the announcement during a news conference Friday morning. He also said he would reorganize U of L’s board of trustees, disbanding the current board immediately and replacing them with an interim three-member board.

In a letter to Bevin dated Thursday, Ramsey said the new board should have an opportunity for a “fresh start.” He said he would offer his resignation to that board once it is created.

Ramsey sent the letter to U of L students, faculty and staff on Friday. He was not expected to make any public comment.

Bevin will appoint the new board members. He said the Council on Postsecondary Education would have a list of 30 potential nominees ready within two weeks.

“The intent is to give a fresh start, to improve the economies, the efficiencies and the administrative abilities of this board to govern the University of Louisville, because its health and its vibrancy is a critical part of the commonwealth,” Bevin said.

Members of the board have been agitating for Ramsey’s departure for more than a year.

The 20-member board of trustees, which included 17 members appointed by the governor, has been floating a no-confidence vote in Ramsey in recent months, but a legal battle over the racial composition of the board prevented them from taking any action.

Ramsey has been under fire for numerous scandals over the past several years. The NCAA is investigating the basketball program after a former escort alleged an ex-coach paid for strippers and sex for players and recruits. Last October, Ramsey apologized after he and his senior staff posed for a photograph at a university Halloween party wearing stereotypical Mexican garb.

More recently, Ramsey has been criticized for his dual role as president of the University of Louisville Foundation, for which he received $2.8 million in compensation in 2014. It was unclear Friday morning if Ramsey would stay on as president of the foundation.

The relationship between the foundation and the university is the subject of an ongoing investigation by state Auditor Mike Harmon.

According to Ramsey’s contract, if he resigns at the request of the Board of Trustees, he can keep a tenured professor position — for 75 percent of his most recent base pay as president, which is $350,000.

According to multiple trustees, the board was not informed of Bevin’s decision in advance.

“Given the dysfunction, given the enmity, sadly, that has come to exist between certain factions of that board whose primary sole mission was to be the benefit of the university but has become sadly something other, it would have created a degree of fervor that would have been a distraction from our ability to do this,” Bevin said.

The governor said he would remake the U of L Board of Trustees with 10 governor-appointed members, not 17. Three members — representatives of the faculty, staff and students — are outside the governor’s jurisdiction. Current state law says the board “shall consist of seventeen” members appointed by the governor.

Bevin said he did not know if there was a precedent for reorganizing a university board in this manner.

“In the last four administrations, there have been 357 board reorganizations,” he said. “I have not looked at every single one of those. In the previous administration, there were 103 board reorganizations. Whether some of those were university boards, I truly don’t know. I don’t know. And it’s irrelevant, frankly, as it relates to this situation.”

Robert Hughes is chair of the U of L Foundation and a former chair (and current member) of the Board of Trustees. He said he learned of Bevin’s decision on Twitter. Hughes has been a strong supporter of Ramsey and has criticized the growing faction of trustees moving for the president’s ouster.

He commended Bevin’s decision to dissolve the current board.

“I applaud the governor’s action,” he said. “It’s decisive and necessary.”

Hughes said he didn’t know how Ramsey came to the decision or whether he did it in consult with the governor. But he said he can understand why Ramsey wants to retire.

“Dr. Ramsey has done an extremely good job, and he’s been under a lot of duress that I don’t think he deserved,” Hughes said. “But I can certainly understand what he’s doing as well.”

Trustee Ron Butt has also been a Ramsey supporter.

“The governor needed to do something to fix the problem, the dissention and the private agendas that were going on among certain trustees,” Butt said. “And so I think what he did is absolutely the right thing to do, and I’m thrilled that he did it.”

In a statement, trustee Emily Bingham said U of L must work to restore the public’s trust.

“The future health of the University of Louisville — its ability to move forward from an administration that routinely compromised proper governance oversight and repeatedly failed to communicate effectively with stakeholders at critical moments — depends on a thorough change of administrative leadership with accountability to a board that employs recognized best practices of governance and applies them,” Bingham said.

She said that also includes the U of L Foundation.

Trustee Steve Campbell, who publicly withdrew his support for Ramsey earlier this year, said he is pleased that the governor has “taken control of the situation.” A change in leadership is in the best interest of the university, Campbell said — but it leaves a big question regarding the university’s foundation unanswered.

“Without a closer look at the foundation and its relationship to the university and the composition of its board and governance, this will be a half-measure in terms of accomplishing what needs to occur at the university,” Campbell said.

Larry Benz, chair of the Board of Trustees, emailed a statement late Friday.

“I am supportive of Gov. Bevin’s actions this morning and desire to give the University of Louisville a fresh start,” he said. “I am grateful that I was able to serve the university as a board member and pledge my continued support.”

Attorney General Andy Beshear called Bevin’s move “unprecedented” and said his office is reviewing it.

“Lawmakers mandated that these boards be independent,” Beshear said in a statement. “My office is therefore closely reviewing today’s actions.”

Tom Jurich, Vice-President and Director of Athletics at U of L, issued a statement thanking Ramsey for his service.

“I would like to thank Dr. Ramsey for the years we have worked together,” Jurich said. “My wife Terrilynn and I love this city and the University of Louisville. We will support the governor and will continue to be committed to our university.”

In recent months, Bevin has used executive action to change the makeup of several state boards. Bevin abolished and reorganized the Workers’ Compensation Nominating Commission twice in just over a month, even as a court decides whether he has the power to do so.

In May, Bevin scrapped and reconstructed the Kentucky Horse Park Commission, which counted Former first lady Jane Beshear as a commissioner.

In a statement Friday afternoon, Mayor Greg Fischer said he was thankful for everyone who worked to help U of L make “great strides over the years,” and that he was looking forward “to working with the new leadership to ensure that both the city and university grow together united in a strategic partnership focused on the future.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a U of L alumnus, praised Ramsey for his work over the past 14 years.

“I’ve seen firsthand how he has grown U of L into one of the best metropolitan research universities in the country,” McConnell said in a statement. “He’s made the school central to the growth and prosperity of the city of Louisville and he has led U of L to greater athletic success as a new member of the Atlantic Coast Conference.”

Stephen George, Kate Howard and Jonese Franklin contributed to this story.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.