After a series of controversies, many on campus blame the president

The Board of Trustees is calling for a vote of no-confidence in university president James Ramsey

Events that occurred during the tenure of University of Louisville President James Ramsey have raised concerns among the campus community—and many are calling for his resignation, Eric Kelderman reports for the Chronicle of Higher Education.

A turbulent tenure

Since Ramsey took over the presidency in 2002, the institution has weathered several sensitive issues. Three university officials are currently under investigation by the FBI, and one lawsuit filed by a whistleblower alleges that Ramsey failed to address warnings about possible misconduct. Two years ago, a university official pleaded guilty to embezzling almost $3 million. The NCAA is investigating allegations that a former basketball coach paid for sexual activities for players and recruits. Some trustees have also expressed concern over Ramsey's compensation from the university's foundation, and the state auditor is currently investigating.

However, others among the campus community credit Ramsey for guiding Louisville through its evolution from a commuter-focused to residential institution. Ramsey coordinated key partnerships with businesses for constructing residence halls and research facilities. During his tenure, Louisville's six-year graduation rate surged up from 33% to 53%. Under Ramsey, Louisville has also more than quadrupled annual fund gifts and landed almost $100 million more in grants from the National Science Foundation.

The scope of responsibility

According to Ramsey, much of the money stolen from the university has been returned and institutional leaders have been open about the events. However, transparency has not been enough to sway many members of the community. 

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Recent surveys of Louisville faculty and students suggest they may submit a vote of no confidence in Ramsey. One group on the university's Board of Trustees is calling for a no-confidence vote at the board's meeting on April 20. The board has already tried (and failed) once to introduce such a vote—at a meeting just last month.

At the heart of the debate is a broader question about the scope of the president's responsibility for the controversies that occurred during his tenure.

There are no allegations of misbehavior against Ramsey himself, but some argue that his actions have set a poor example of leadership.

"While there are real difficulties on the board due to different interpretations of the president's role, this president cannot lead us out of the mire," says Emily Bingham, one of the trustees advocating for a no-confidence vote.

Ramsey argues that even with safeguards in place, problems are inevitable at a university that employs more than 6,000 people. But when people do act inappropriately, "We catch them, and we make it public," he says.

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Some fear that without new leadership, Louisville will not be able to progress.

"In most organizations, there's a time when the institution needs to be refreshed with new ideas," says R. Charles Moyer, a former dean of Louisville's College of Business. In this case, he says, the university should "celebrate" Mr. Ramsey's accomplishments, "and move on to the next level"

Ramsey has fought back against the trustees. In an open letter to the campus community, Ramsey blasted the board for "discord, anger, and tension" at the March meeting.

"I am disappointed that our university has been defined by the friction among those entrusted with running it," he wrote (Kelderman, Chronicle of Higher Education, 4/14).

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