After a string of controversies , on Wednesday trustees of University of Louisville accepted the resignation of long-serving President James Ramsey. For 14 years Ramsey oversaw the evolution of the University into a distinguished research institution and top education facility, but his tenure became increasingly marked by complacency around a raft of scandals.
In 2015 the writing was on the wall for Ramsey after several university officials sentences to prison for fraud and embezzlement of more than $7 million in university funds. Further, an investigation was announced by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) into former university basketball coach Andre McGee allegedly paying for strippers and sex for players and recruits. Ramsey personally courted controversy when he was accused of racial insensitivity after posing for a photograph at a university Halloween party wearing stereotypical Mexican garb (he has since issued a public apology). It was enough to convince critics that Ramsey was out of touch with contemporary standards of probity.
Earlier this year, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin announced that a new board of trustees would be convened and Ramsey would be leaving the University in the near future. Ramsey, who was on a $2.5 million salary, will receive a $690,000 payout. University Provost Neville Pinto will be acting President while the board seeks a new President.
With Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton having seen off their respective challengers in the US primaries and now set to go head-to-head for the run to the Oval Office, both are involved in scandals involving for-profit universities (or in the case of Trump, an institution posing as a university).
Donald Trump’s troubles center on a suite of lawsuits currently being made against defunct Trump University, which is accused of operating without a business license in New York State (where Trump University was not registered as a university institution) and of defrauding students. The fraud charges are class actions alleging that Trump University promised one-to-one mentoring and instruction in investment techniques that were not adequately delivered. A judge who permitted one of the class actions to proceed, U.S. District Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel, was criticised by Trump during campaign speeches as a “hater” and referred to as “Mexican” and “Spanish” (although Curiel is in actuality US-born).
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton has run into her own problems, as it has emerged that $55 million was sent by her State Department to groups overseen by Douglas Becker — a major donor to Clinton campaigns and the Clinton Foundation, and also founder of Laureate International Universities, which paid Bill Clinton $16.5 million to serve as honorary chancellor between 2010-2014.
Given the questions being asked about both candidates’ association with for-profit educational institutions, it will be interesting to see whether the candidates use the controversies as political ammunition against one another, or decide that burying the issues is in both their interests.
After victory by students supporting the ‘Rhodes must fall campaign’ at the University of Cape Town, which resulted in the removal of the statue of controversial figure Cecil Rhodes, it was perhaps inevitable that the campaign would extend to Oxford University, where his statue adorns Rhodes House at Oriel College.
Rhodes is a notorious figure in the history of apartheid in South Africa. As Prime Minister of Cape Colony during the late 19th century, he oversaw the establishment of the apartheid political system, pushed blacks off their ancestral lands and limited their land ownership (which in turn prevented them from voting).
Currently Oxford University is in consultation about removing the statue of Rhodes. Apart from the politics and ethics of the matter, Oxford also has to consider laws that prevent alterations to heritage listed buildings.
What is fascinating is some of the rhetoric of opponents to removing the statue. Some have likened the student supporters to terrorists like Daesh who enjoy destroying monuments. Issues of racial insensitivity are sidestepped with familiar rhetorical denials of being racist. Take, for example, an opinion piece titled “Tearing down statues is the behaviour of fanatics”, which was published in Friday’s issue of the Oxford Mail. At one point the author writes: “Let me be clear, I am not a racist and certainly not a supporter of apartheid, but…” The author opines that “things have moved on now” and looking back in time “gets us absolutely nowhere.” So much for taking lessons from history and dealing with neo-colonial attitudes and ongoing racism.
Former South African president F.W. de Klerk has weighed into the debate by urging the statue to be left standing. Given that de Klerk headed the apartheid state for which Cecil Rhodes helped establish, it is probable that his support for the statue will aid the case for opponents to have it removed.
No doubt the name of Rhodes House itself, not to mention Oxford’s internationally renowned Rhodes Scholarship, will also be in the target sights of the student movement before too long. It will be interesting to see how Oxford handles these matters, as the University is generously endowed by Cecil Rhodes’ estate.
Some universities appear to have a penchant for getting in the news for all the wrong reasons. Take the University of Louisville. In the last two years the university has courted controversy for a number of unrelated issues:
Last year several university officials went to prison for fraud and embezzlement of more than $7 million in university funds.
In October the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) announced an investigation of the university’s basketball program after a former escort alleged former coach Andre McGee paid for strippers and sex for players and recruits
In November President James Ramsey, whose staggering US$2.5 million salary was controversial enough, was accused of racial insensitivity when he and senior staff posed for a photograph at a university Halloween party wearing stereotypical Mexican garb (he has since issued a public apology)
Now, the Courier-Journal has reported that the FBI is investigating top university officials for possible misuse of federal grant funds. Under investigation are David Dunn, the university’s executive vice president for health affairs, and Priscilla Hancock, its chief information officer, for misuse of federal money for private purposes. Both have been placed on leave.
Ramsey is facing increasing pressure to resign as head of the troubled university, but so far he is standing firm and appears to have the support of the Board of Trustees. His future, however, will likely hinge on the outcome of the new investigations and how much fault can be attributed to poor stewardship from the senior university leadership.
The president of the University of Missouri, Tim Wolfe, has stepped down following protests over widespread racism at the University. On Monday, Wolfe held a press conference to announce his resignation after student and staff protests erupted last week over the failure of University management to address racial abuse. A graduate student, Jonathan Butler, had commenced a hunger strike over a range of alleged racially motivated on-campus incidents in the past few months, including racial insults directed at the Missouri Students Association President, the Legion of Black Collegians, and a black journalism professor.
After initially denying that racism was entrenched within the culture of the university, Wolfe was moved by the hunger protest by Butler and a threat by the University football team, the Missouri Tigers, to go on strike, to admit that systematic racism existed. It was not enough to quell the frustration of students and staff associated with a group called “Concerned Student 1950” (1950 being the year in which black students were integrated at the University), who demanded Wolfe’s resignation.
In the press conference on Monday announcing his resignation, Wolfe stopped short of accepting blame for the issues raised by protesters, but admitted that senior management had failed to engage with dissent due to a breakdown in communication with dissenters. He said: “It is my belief we stopped listening to each other. We didn’t respond or react. We got frustrated with each other and we forced individuals like Jonathan Butler to take immediate action and unusual steps to affect change.”
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon issued a statement saying that he “appreciated” Wolfe’s gesture of resigning and noted that there is “more work to do” to address problems of racism at the University. What steps are taken to tackle the issues remain to be seen, but will no doubt be the top priority of the next president when appointed.