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Trustees Seek to Split Roles of U of L President, Foundation Head

in Louisville, Ky., on Wednesday, June 4, 2014. Photo by Eleanor Hasken | Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting
Eleanor Hasken
in Louisville, Ky., on Wednesday, June 4, 2014. Photo by Eleanor Hasken | Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting

Members of the University of Louisville’s Board of Trustees are seeking to split the two roles the university’s president, James Ramsey, currently fills.

Ramsey is president of both the university and the U of L Foundation, a separate $1.1 billion nonprofit. He has overseen both — and been paid by each — since 2002.

A motion circulated this week among the 20 trustees would bar the university president from serving in both roles starting in June.

Sources on the board have told WFPL the issue has long been simmering, and that there are concerns that both entities have grown large enough to require a full-time president.

There have also been ongoing concerns about conflicts of interest between the two entities when managed by the same person.

The board meets Thursday but will delay discussion of the motion, according to trustees chair Larry Benz. In an email, he declined to comment further on the issue. (Read the motion, via WDRB.)

In a lengthy statement, Ramsey warned splitting his role would have financial implications. The foundation provides funds to U of L academic operations.

"The University of Louisville Foundation is an essential tool in meeting our statutory mandate and has become key to our ability to weather the global financial circumstances that have reduced U of L’s state appropriation," he said. "Separating the two roles would lead to competition between the University and Foundation, undermining the strategy of placing the university under a fiscal dome of protection from a tumultuous time for the state budget."

Ramsey also said the board should await the results of a review from state Auditor Mike Harmon that is expected to examine governance issues at U of L and, more broadly, nonprofit foundations tied to state universities.

It was sparked by Harmon's predecessor, Adam Edelen, after concerns from trustees about governance and financial management at the foundation, as well as Ramsey's compensation, which comes from both entities.

On Monday, former trustees chair and current chairman of the foundation Robert Hughes — a close ally of Ramsey — asked Harmon in a letter to continue the audit. In the letter, Hughes shared a similar sentiment to Ramsey's statement on Wednesday: that the foundation had been indispensable in providing funding for university operations during the financial crisis.

Sources close to the university say if the motion to split the roles came to a vote on Thursday, it would have majority support.

For months, a growing group of trustees has sought to increase oversight of both the board and the foundation. Their efforts date back to early last year, when it was revealed that Ramsey had been paid $2.7 million by the foundation in 2012.

This story has been updated.

Stephen George is President and CEO of Louisville Public Media. Email Stephen at sgeorge@lpm.org.