On Independence

On July 4, 1776, several prominent political leaders released a document listing various injustices which impelled them to declare independence from the government of Britain.  Reading the list, several themes emerge: The king was governing with a deaf ear without the consent of his constituents; he was taking their money and property without considering their input and feedback; he was not transparent in his governance or decision-making. He was governing without deriving his “just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Twenty-four years after that document was published, UofL was founded.  The Kentucky legislature chartered a new academy in Louisville, and eight men in Louisville, Kentucky pledged land and funds to organize this school. Later, in 1846, the Kentucky legislature created the University of Louisville as a public university.

Today, after more than a century of serving students and our community, UofL is at a difficult crossroads. Many alumni and supporters are frustrated in our leadership, specifically our board of trustees. Donations and morale are significantly down.  The injustices faced by UofL today are not nearly as severe as those faced by the original colonies in the late 1700’s, but the themes raised by those founding fathers ring true in our current situation: We are now governed by a group of 13 people, several of whom have little or no affiliation to UofL outside of their role on the board, some of whom are alumni, fans, and supporters of other universities before our own. Our board and interim president dictate what happens with the University, and we must accept it. Feedback from faculty, students, and alumni is ignored.

The board of trustees takes donors’ money, accounts for it, and reports that it is there. They say that is adequate leadership, because they say our prior administration did not accurately account for funds that were donated. Is this all we deserve? A calculator is an honest accountant, but that does not make it an effective leader.

It’s no surprise that donations are down and that alumni are angry. A good leader sacrifices and fights for the people he or she is leading. Looking at the board today, it appears an attitude is emerging that stasis is acceptable, and that the progress of the University is up to the donors, not up to the board.

After Governor Bevin’s newest appointments, only 1 of 13 board members will have received an undergraduate degree from the University of Louisville. (One more is a current student and will receive an undergraduate degree soon). This is far below other ACC and Kentucky universities. A few board members have been very generous with UofL, but others have donated very little. On other schools’ boards, large donations are practically a prerequisite to being asked to join.

The chairman of our board, Mr. Grissom, made generous, public donations to Centre College, but his public donations to UofL appear to be far less than his gifts to Centre. Donating to Centre is admirable, but perhaps we would be better led by someone who, given equal resources, would make such a large gift to UofL.  Often, where you give your money shows where your heart is also.

UofL does not lack for talented alumni who care about the university.  But less than a quarter of our board is an alumnus of any kind. This is a problem, and may explain why donations are down and morale is slipping. UofL needs to be governed from within.

To the UofL Board of Trustees: Ask yourself a question and answer honestly: “Is UofL the school that I am most passionate about, and the one which I am willing to make the biggest sacrifice for to ensure its success?” There are thousands in Louisville who can honestly say “Yes.”  If the answer to that question is “no,” then please step down and allow someone else to take your place. To Governor Bevin: Please consider this question when making future appointments to our board.