After a fiery special meeting that focused on members’ eroding confidence in University of Louisville President James Ramsey, the university’s board of trustees agreed on Tuesday to hold a vote on the matter at its next meeting in April.
The board spent the bulk of the meeting in closed executive session, discussing pending litigation. But when the open meeting reconvened, Trustee Jody Prather called for the board to take a no-confidence vote on Ramsey.
“I’m concerned with the president’s current decision-making approach, which I and others have found to be both non-collaborative and unilateral in nature,” Prather said.
From there, the meeting devolved into arguments about whether Prather’s motion was procedurally appropriate, as well as personal attacks and accusations that a faction of the board was seeking to remove Ramsey in order to install a specific alternate candidate.
U of L has been beset with scandal after scandal over the past year. The state auditor is currently examining whether Ramsey’s dual role as president of both the university and the U of L Foundation is appropriate, and the NCAA is investigating whether a former staff member hired an escort service to provide strippers and sex to men’s basketball recruits and players.
The FBI is also looking into whether several top university officials misused school funds. Most recently, a whistleblower lawsuit filed Monday said Ramsey was guilty of official misconduct.
“At every turn, President Ramsey tells us that his authority and his pioneering leadership require our unquestioning defense,” Trustee Emily Bingham said during the meeting. “When we ask questions, we get temper tantrums. We cannot move forward with a first-class public institution with a form of leadership and a leader who does not understand what good governance requires.”
After the meeting, Ramsey said he didn’t think the trustees backing the no-confidence motion were acting professionally.
“I don’t believe they have put the welfare of the university first,” he said. “My focus has always been on the statutory mandate that we’ve been given by the people of Kentucky, and that’s to educate students. And that’s what we’re doing the very best we can, and that’s what my focus will continue to be.”
When asked if he intended to remain in his job, Ramsey answered, “I don’t know.”
He then clarified, saying he wouldn’t resign but would decide after his next annual evaluation.
But the 20-member board of trustees appears split on whether the university’s problems are due to Ramsey’s leadership or the board itself.
“We are a broken board,” trustee and Ramsey ally Bob Hughes said. “We’re not a broken administration, we’re a broken board. I think it’s irreparably broken. And I’ll go on the record as saying the governor should ask the entire board to resign. I’d resign in that case, because it’s doing too much damage.”
Hughes added that he planned to write a letter to Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin suggesting he ask for the board’s resignation.
“There’s a lot of support left on this board for Dr. Ramsey, I can tell you that,” Trustee Bruce Henderson said, though he added he wasn’t sure which faction was in the majority.
After the meeting, Trustees Emily Bingham, Craig Greenberg, Steve Campbell and Douglas Hall stood together to reiterate their concerns about Ramsey’s leadership.
“I think in any case one person isn’t at the root of a problem, but one person can create a culture that can fester over time, and I think that’s where we are today,” Greenberg said.
He denied accusations from Hughes that the board’s dissent was based on wanting to replace Ramsey with a friend or family member.
“This isn’t about the next president of the university,” Greenberg said. “This is about the crisis, the embarrassments, the scandals, the investigations, the indictments that are occurring at the university today. And for months, the board of trustees has been prevented from having meaningful discussion about those topics. It’s time that changes, it’s time the board of trustees does its job in governing this university, and that’s what today’s discussion was about.”
Ramsey’s contract doesn’t expire until 2020. If the trustees express a vote of no-confidence, that won’t force him out of his job but will send a clear message.