U of L 'abandoned' by state government

President James Ramsey reacts to budget vetos by Governor Ernie Fletcher

University of Louisville President James Ramsey visited with members of the media on Wednesday morning to share his thoughts on Kentucky Governor Ernie Fletcher's decision to veto $73 million worth of academic projects planned by the school.

The decision to slash nearly all the money that U of L had hoped to receive, has Dr. Ramsey re-thinking his position on agreeing to move the Cardinals basketball program to a proposed downtown arena.

President Ramsey's full remarks from his Wednesday press conference follow.

In 1997, the Kentucky General Assembly enacted the Postsecondary Education Improvement Act, giving higher education in Kentucky a public agenda, that is a major role to play — to increase economic opportunity and the quality of life for all Kentuckians. U of L was given the mandate to become a preeminent metropolitan research university.

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  • We have taken that mandate seriously.

    We have a strategic/business plan — have had since 1998 — the Challenge for Excellence — that guides us.

    This plan was designed to achieve not just our state mandate, but also a community plan — the Boyle Report — a plan to grow the health care and the logistic/distribution clusters in our city and state to replace lost manufacturing jobs.

    We have been successful with the Challenge for Excellence.

    First, we continue to attract better students, and our students continue to achieve at higher levels. Our retention and graduation rates are on the rise.

    Second, research funding — federal dollars coming to our community — at U of L has grown over 400% in the last 6 years. We have had the fastest growth nationally in NIH funding.

    Third, we continue to make a difference in our community in many ways, such as our work with JCPS; our Partnership for a Green Community; and our Signature Partnership Initiative.

    But today, we have been abandoned by the very state we strive to serve. The vetoes announced this week, and the limited base funding increases provided for U of L in the budget, pose a serious threat to not only our progress, but that of our community and, hence, our state.

    $370 million in vetoes were announced earlier this week. The U of L projects eliminated were $73 million, 20 percent of the total — that's 20 percent of all projects eliminated statewide — was borne by U of L.

    And none of these projects would have cost the taxpayers of Kentucky a dime.

    These projects were to be financed by agency bonds — projects that pay for themselves — not by general fund appropriations.

    First, the renovation of the Medical Dental Research Building would allow our researchers to advance their work in repairing spinal cord injuries and preventing and treating cardiovascular disease.

    This project would be paid for with incremental, indirect costs generated from the research done in the building.

    Miller Hall is a 42-year-old residence hall in need of renovation. These improvements would enhance the student life experience while making the residence hall more competitive in meeting student living and academic needs. We have a comprehensive plan to improve all of our residence halls over time so we can continue to attract Kentucky's best students and make this campus a welcoming, enjoyable home for them while in school. We know that if we lose our best students to schools out of state, we may never get them back. This project would be paid with residence hall rentals by students.

    The parking garage is vital to help us meet the needs of the patients, physicians, researchers and students who use our hospital and clinics on our Health Sciences campus, especially U of L's James G. Brown Cancer Center. This parking garage is critical to replace the more than 200 spaces that have been taken by construction of our new cancer research building, a facility critical to our plan to "Find Answers to Cancer." Users of the parking garage would pay for this building.

    We already have received millions of dollars in donations to our basketball practice facility. As with other projects that were eliminated, this facility was to be paid in total from gifts designated for that purpose. This project also represents our continued commitment to gender equity — so that all of our students have a chance to compete and be successful.

    These projects would have required NO TAXPAYER FUNDING.

    In addition,vetoed was

  • $14 million for all of higher ed for crucial maintenance on our aging facilities
  • $10 million for information technology programs for higher ed; and
  • $6 million for research support
  • I had previously committed to the embarrassingly modest amount the CPE requested for research at U of L/UK — a request of $34 million. The General Assembly only approved a paltry $7.5 million (no Bucks for Brains money) and now $6 million has been eliminated. This leaves $500,000 of the $1.5 million for U of L to try to continue to grow its research programs to help Kentuckians.

    These project cuts came on top of the General Assembly's operating appropriation for U of L — which was the lowest-funded of four-year institutions — as a percentage of the Council on Postsecondary Education recommendation. The disparity in the distribution of the higher education funding by the General Assembly shows that the CPE's request for higher education totally lacked credibility; policy makers have no faith in the CPE, the very group charged with making the budget recommendation for all of higher education.

    Saturday at a conference in Frankfort, I called upon the CPE to reestablish its advocacy role for higher education and devise, in conjunction with the General Assembly, a funding model that is credible and recognizes the unique mission given to each university in the Postsecondary Education Improvement Act.

    It has been said that U of L's cuts are offset by the arena funding.

    In my State of the University address to the campus on September 28, 2005, I said "Arenas are nice and, we would support the recommendations to be made by the Governor's Arena Task Force. But wouldn't it be nice if others in our community put the same effort that has been exerted around the building of a downtown arena into our efforts to achieve the mandate of the Postsecondary Education Improvement Act of 1997. Wouldn't it be nice if that same energy, drive and commitment were allocated to improving education in our community — all of education?"

    At a time when we are perfectly happy to play at Freedom Hall, our academic programs are made to suffer because an arena is more important than our academic priorities.

    If an arena is more important than investing in our young people — I am saddened and discouraged.

    Let me repeat, we are totally happy to play at Freedom Hall — don't anyone say for a minute that a new arena is U of L's arena or a new arena is for U of L.

    I met several weeks ago with the leadership of GLI to say that if we are really serious about growth in this community, we must commit our every energy/effort to fund education in this community — JCPS, JCTC, U of L. I renew that call today to every element of our community — from our Jefferson County legislative delegation, to our local government leadership, to our business community, to everyone who cares about our future.

    Let me close by saying that this budget will significantly slow the progress we are making at the University of Louisville, thus hurting our community and all Kentucky.

    As hard as it will be, however, our great university recommits to the people of this community and state that we will not abandon you — we reaffirm our commitment to the best cancer care, world quality heart care, to academic excellence and all that we represent as a university.

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