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U of L's Ramsey Defends Record Amid Controversies

James Ramsey
J. Tyler Franklin
James Ramsey

University of Louisville President James Ramsey says he remains focused on his job despite the numerous controversies that have plagued the university over the past year.

Ramsey spoke publicly for the first time about some of those issues in an address Thursday to the Rotary Club of Louisville. But he avoided taking questions from media.

The U of L president spent most of his speech touting the university's growth in research, fundraising and academic achievement. But he acknowledged that some "mistakes" have been made on his watch.

U of L is dealing with an alleged prostitution scandal involving its men’s basketball program and an FBI probe into the handling of funds by two top university health officials. It is also the subject of a state audit.

Ramsey has come under fire for his hefty compensation and dual roles as U of L president and head of its billion-dollar foundation, which pays a portion of his salary, as well as bonuses and deferred compensation.

Some trustees want a different person to lead the foundation, and last week two trustees — Stephen Campbell and Craig Greenberg — said they no longer support Ramsey. In his speech at the Galt House, Ramsey derided media for covering the issue.

Ramsey’s compensation has been a source of public criticism for months.

In 2013, he received $1.86 million in compensation from the Foundation. He received $3.2 million the year before, when his deferred compensation vested. He is also paid by the university.

In 2014, Ramsey’s total compensation was nearly $1.7 million, which far exceeds other Atlantic Coast Conference schools, according to an analysis by The Courier-Journal.

Ramsey also drew criticism last fall after posing in stereotypical Mexican garb for a photo during a staff Halloween party.

The various problems at the university — particularly Ramsey’s outsize compensation and the fact that he heads up the entities that provide it — prompted former U of L Trustee Steve Wilson to request an investigation from former state Auditor Adam Edelen last year.

Edelen’s successor, Mike Harmon, said recently he would continue the examination, which will focus on governance and spending at the $1.1 billion U of L Foundation, which is a separate nonprofit from the university.

While some have called for Ramsey to resign, he told Rotarians that his passion for the job remains strong.

“I’m 67 years old, and I’m not sure how much longer I want to have all this fun or share it with some people,” he said. “Other people ought to have as much fun as I have, but I’m going to remain focused on one thing and one thing only, and that’s students and young people.”

Ramsey said in an operation as large as U of L’s, with 6,000 employees, there are bound to be missteps, just as there are at other institutions.

Ramsey Addresses Basketball Allegations

Ramsey says the school is cooperating fully with the NCAA investigation of its men’s basketball program.

The NCAA probe is one of several launched following last fall’s publication of a book alleging that former staffer Andre McGee arranged for strippers and escorts to entertain players and recruits, often in the men’s basketball dorm.

During his presentation Thursday, Ramsey said because there’s also a criminal investigation and lawsuits, it’s a slow process.

“We’re determined to find out whether it was one individual, whether money was involved, whether it was multiple individuals or no money was involved.   So we’re working on that and moving that forward.”  

Rick Howlett was midday host and the host of LPM's weekly talk show, "In Conversation." He was with LPM from 2001-2023 and held many different titles, including Morning Edition host, Assignment Editor and Interim News Director. He died in August 2023. Read a remembrance of Rick here.