So James Ramsey has offered to resign as president of UofL. Finally, the university and Louisville community may be able to close the book on the controversies surrounding the embattled president. And who do we have to thank?
Gov. Matt Bevin. The Ouster-in-Chief.
But this story is not finished. There still has been no word on whether Ramsey will continue as president of the UofL Foundation, with its $1 billion fund from which he receives the bulk of his lucrative compensation package. Or whether Bevin’s dismantling of the trustees is even legal. It’s also worth mentioning the fact that the trustees were notified of their dismissal via text and Twitter, while Ramsey managed to construct a deal with Bevin wherein it looks like he gets to leave on his own terms and tear down all of his enemies.
Ramsey’s likely departure is a relief, not a cause for celebration. The calls for Ramsey’s resignation were never the result of a personal vendetta against the man, but rather they were borne out of a desire to move beyond the controversies that had cast shadows over the institution. Ultimately, what we all want is a smooth transition, so the university can prosper as a leader in higher education.
Despite the feeling that Ramsey may be making a clean getaway like one of the Lehman Brothers executives — who wrecked the economy while personally pocketing millions — what’s best for the university is a smooth transition, not a prolonged mud-slinging fight, or a hostile removal.
The real concern now, however, is that Bevin has inserted himself into the equation. And if the first six months of his tenure are proof of anything, it is that he is not the one who will bring stability to UofL, nor can he be trusted with the responsibility of public appointments.
Bevin declared his election a “mandate” from the voters, although he won support from only 16 percent or so of registered voters in Kentucky. So fittingly, perhaps, he has treated public boards and commissions with a tyrannical fury emblematic of some of the world’s worst regimes. While we can be optimistic about the future of UofL post-Ramsey — for the moment at least — the prospect of Bevin implementing his will on the university leaves one wondering: Was the devil we knew better than the devil we have?
Again, while there is still a large question as to the legality of Bevin’s actions, in the case of UofL and with other commissions he has overhauled unilaterally, his track record is one marred by radical transitions based on his own myopic world-view. In several instances now — by his own whim, executive order and trampling on any respect for democratic process — Bevin has dissolved existing boards and commissions, only to recreate them (usually smaller and) with his own appointments. This spits in the face of years of bipartisan efforts, if not respect, allowing for appointments to be staggered across administrations, so that public institutions are not steered by the partisan whims of each administration. It reflects stability and respect for democracy — neither character qualities Governor Chaos has yet to exhibit.
The most startling example of Bevin’s abuse of power — and why I find it analogous to other tyrannical regimes — is the story surrounding the Kentucky Retirement Systems board. Similar to what he has done with the UofL Board of Trustees, by executive order Bevin dissolved the Retirement System Board of Trustees and Directors, and appointed his own. What’s more is that he sent Kentucky State Police to the May board meeting to prevent the sitting chairman, Tommy Elliott, from participating. Lawsuits have been filed against Bevin, and a Franklin Circuit Court has suspended the executive orders. Most important, however, the idea that he would use state police to intimidate and (possibly illegally) prevent a public appointee from attending a meeting is tyrannical.
If this sounds esoteric, or insignificant, to the direction of the state, or in this case UofL, consider the immediate impact Bevin had on the Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority. In late April, a mere week after Bevin replaced four members and reappointed another to the seven-person board, the Authority approved the Ark Park’s $18-million tax-incentive application. The tax incentives had been denied under the Beshear administration because of the park’s discriminatory employee-hiring practices, which are based on religion.
So what does the future hold for UofL?
Will the Rauch Planetarium be replaced with an interactive display of Genesis’ creation of man? I doubt it. But this is not something to be discussed in secret. The deal to oust the UofL Board of Trustees was already a secretive deal made between Ramsey and Bevin. The discussion and direction of the future of the University of Louisville leadership needs to be an open, thorough process. For the successful transition, and a fresh start for the university, this process cannot continue to be one man’s tyrannical reign to reshape the world in his image. •