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Ramsey Resigns From U of L Foundation, Ending Months Of Speculation

University of Louisville President James Ramsey listens as an audit report is released to U of L's Board of Trustees. The audit came about after internal theft was found at the university.
Alix Mattingly
University of Louisville President James Ramsey during a 2014 Board of Trustees meeting. Brucie Moore sits to his right.

James Ramsey, the embattled former president of the University of Louisville, stepped down Friday from his role as president of its Foundation.

His departure ends his formal ties to the university and comes on the heels of months of scandal, scrutiny and battles between the boards of trustees.

Also on Friday, Ramsey’s top deputy and chief of staff Kathleen Smith announced her retirement from the university after 45 years, though she’ll remain with the University of Louisville Foundation for some time.

In a letter distributed by the board, Ramsey said that he and his wife have been considering retirement for some time. He stepped down as university president in July via a $690,000 buyout. His contract as the Foundation’s president allowed the board members to terminate him for cause, if they chose, based on his departure from the university.

“Today effectively ends Dr. Ramsey’s tenure at the University of Louisville, and again let me express my appreciation for the work that he did,” said Bob Hughes, U of L Foundation board chairman and a longtime supporter of Ramsey.

Ramsey was named president of the Foundation in 2002, the same year he became president of the university. The details of Ramsey’s role, and compensation, at the Foundation came under scrutiny in recent years. Tax records show that the Foundation paid him $2.24 million in 2014.

The Foundation is a nonprofit corporation that manages the university’s roughly $700 million endowment, and has been deemed by the courts to be a public agency and part of U of L. Nonetheless, the Foundation and university have separate governing boards.
( Read KyCIR's coverage of the University of Louisville)

A clash between those two boards nearly boiled over into a legal fight this week, but Ramsey’s resignation appears to have changed the tenor of the discussion.

U of L board chair Larry Benz, who also sits on the Foundation’s board, had threatened to file suit against the Foundation for withholding records he sought, but laid out a "pathway to restored confidence" he said would prevent that lawsuit.

The Foundation board on Friday accepted Ramsey’s resignation and appointed several new members to fill vacancies: Paul Carico, Alice Houston, Ronnie Abrams and Diane Medley. The board also reappointed William Selvidge, whose term had expired. Hughes said he voluntarily relinquished his chairmanship of the board, and a nominating committee selected Brucie Moore, also a university trustee, to become chair.

Moore, who also serves as a university trustee, said Ramsey's resignation will allow the Foundation to "continue our upward trajectory."

"My goal is to bring back the confidence to the Foundation for all the stakeholders," Moore said. “I think we are taking the first step to do that today."

Ramsey’s attorney, Steve Pence, said he wasn’t granting interviews.

The board postponed a vote to solicit firms to conduct an audit, which university trustees want to do themselves. The board also re-appointed Smith to her role as assistant secretary of the Foundation, despite Benz’s call to relieve her of her duties.

In an emailed statement about her university retirement, Smith said she has essentially worked two full-time jobs, and it’s been “grueling and stressful.”

“I do want to see through a few projects on which I’ve had a leadership role, so I look forward to doing that over the next several months at the University of Louisville Foundation,” Smith said.

The Foundation board didn't take all the steps Benz had previously demanded, but they are at least "on the path," he said.

“I think today was a great day that enabled some additional discussion that we’ll be in further sync,” Benz said.

A scheduled presentation from the finance director was scrapped and will be shared at a later date, board members said. The agenda noted they would discuss the endowment -- and donor threats to pull funding due to concerns about how money was being spent.

That discussion has been postponed to a later meeting. Moore said the new members will need to get up to speed, and she will call a special meeting of the Foundation as soon as possible.

Kate Howard can be reached at  khoward@kycir.org and (502) 814.6546.

Disclosure: In 2015, the University of Louisville, which for years has donated to Louisville Public Media, earmarked $3,000 to KyCIR as part of a larger LPM donation. University board members Stephen Campbell and Sandra Frazier have donated to KyCIR.