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Outrage From Faculty, Shrugs From Trustees After U of L Pay Revelations

Revelations about lucrative perks doled out to former University of Louisville president James Ramsey’s top deputies brought outrage Friday from faculty members and taxpayers, but was of no concern to two top trustees.

WFPL’s Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting revealed earlier in the day that many of Ramsey’s top administrators were given pay packages and perks that compensation experts called exorbitant. (Read " Ramsey Leaves Top U of L Deputies With Extraordinary Perks")

One such benefit: $1,000 per month car allowances for Ramsey deputies. The assorted benefits enraged communications professor Michael Cunningham, who pays $600 a year to park on campus.

“We just feel exploited, and we feel like we’re chumps,” Cunningham said. “They’re getting rich, we’re getting poor.”

The latest slight comes amid university budget cuts, a series of scandals besmirching the school and a spate of bitter public quarrels among institutional leaders and politicians.

Cunningham said the university’s administration resembles a corporation more than a university. Resources are pulled from faculty and staff and students are shortchanged while administrators see their fringe benefits grow, he said.

History professor Mark Blum has been with U of L for 40 years.

“When I retire, which might be in a few years, could I ask for a golden parachute?” Blum said. “You know I’ve dealt with thousands and thousands of students, so the rank unfairness of it is something that sticks in my mind and I think the public should really think about that.”

The aberrant benefits and salaries were meted out by Ramsey while faculty and staff went without raises, noted professor Nancy Theriot.

“He doesn’t care about the university,” Theriot said. “He cares about himself and his buddies and power and prestige and that’s all he cares about.”

Some of Ramsey’s superiors on the Board of Trustees don’t share the faculty sentiment.

Bob Hughes previously served as board chairman and was on the board up until Gov. Matt Bevin’s dissolved and reconstituted the group in June. Hughes said he agrees the university is like a corporation -- and it needs to pay its leaders accordingly.

“If you look at $300,000-some dollars, that’s a lot of money to probably 90 to 95 percent of people and I understand that," Hughes said. "But you pay a lot of money for good talent. I didn’t think those perks were way out of line and I was not surprised by those.”

The university is a $1.3 billion business, he said, and it takes a lot of talented people to run it.

He said board members should have known about the perks extended to the administrators, and if anyone didn’t, they could have asked.

KyCIR examined university contracts for eight top administrators, finding extraordinary perks like the car allowances, bonuses, paid family health care and free spouse travel. These perks, as outlined in agreements signed by Ramsey, would be difficult, if not impossible, for the next president to roll back.

Two administrators have a potentially costly provision: U of L must keep them on the payroll through 2020 if they’re let go within two years of Ramsey’s departure last week.

Hughes said presidents tend to pick the people they want to work with. The next president can weigh the cost of paying out those contracts against hiring new leaders with the board, he added.

“I think that would be a real good healing process, too, between the administration (and the board) to work together on that issue,” Hughes said.

Junior Bridgeman, chairman of Bevin’s newly appointed Board of Trustees, said there was “nothing to say” about the contracts.

“I don’t know if there’s even really a discussion to be had… if it’s a legally binding contract, I’m sure (the university) will uphold their end of it,” Bridgeman said.

Similar issues at Kentucky Community and Technical College System brought calls for legislative hearings earlier this year.

Senate President Robert Stivers, Sen. Christian McDaniel and other lawmakers in March initiated an investigation following a KyCIR report about a secret $348,000 payment to a retired community college president in Northern Kentucky. The lawmakers demanded more scrutiny of the compensation packages afforded to top state universities and college leaders. (Read " Lawmakers Decry Community College President’s Payout Following KyCIR Report")

On the Senate floor, Stivers, a Manchester Republican, decried "golden parachutes" given to outgoing officials during a time of education budget cuts and belt tightening.

Stivers's office declined to comment Friday about the latest U of L revelations. Spokesman John Cox noted that the legislature had already tasked a committee to study the issue.

"Until we've seen the results of that study, we won't have a full picture," Cox said. "That report should serve as a good guide."

The findings should be presented in January, when the legislature reconvenes, he noted.

Kate Howard can be reached at  khoward@kycir.org and (502) 814.6546. Will Wright, KyCIR's summer fellow, can be reached at wwright@kycir.org and (724) 344.6945. 

Kate Howard is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

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