Dec 30, 2012 3:55 PM
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - University of Louisville President James Ramsey is marking his 10th anniversary on the job and garnering praise for taking the school to new academic and athletic heights.
When Ramsey took over in 2002, only one-third of University of Louisville students graduated within six years of starting college, fewer than 100 students earned doctoral degrees each year and the school was drawing just $81 million in research grants.
Now, more than half of students graduate, twice as many doctoral degrees are given out annually and professors bring in millions more in research money.
Board of Trustees Chairman Frank Minnifield told The Courier-Journal (http://cjky.it/TlEZ08 ) that Ramsey is "solely responsible" for turning the University of Louisville from a commuter college into a dynamic forward looking school.
"It's no longer the same university, and it's because of Jim Ramsey," Minnifield said.
Ramsey's supporters point to a swelling endowment, construction projects across the city spearheaded by the school and the recent announcement that the school's athletics teams will enter the Atlantic Coast Conference as early as 2014.
Bill Stone, a former trustee and member of the school's board of overseers, says that while Louisville has fallen short in some areas, it's not because of a lack effort by Ramsey. In many cases, it's simply a matter of time before goals are reached, he said.
Ramsey, 64, never expected to be at U of L this long after being hired in 2002.
"I always have said and still hope that in some way I can finish my career in the classroom, and the longer I work, the harder that's going to be," said Ramsey, whose contract calls for him to remain president through 2020.
His predecessor, John Shumaker, quit in June 2002 to take a job as president of the University of Tennessee, and provost and acting President Carol Garrison quit a month later to take the top job at the University of Alabama-Birmingham.
Jessica Loving, then the trustees' chairwoman, called Ramsey, whom she had known for more than 20 years, to take over temporarily and leave then-Gov. Paul Patton's budget office.
"I knew he could handle a budget, and I knew he understood legislative matters, and we were getting ready to go into a potentially contentious legislative session, and I knew budgets were going to be really tight for the next number of years," Loving said.
School trustees decided to keep him after his first few months on the job.
U of L's endowment has risen to more than $724 million from nearly $479 million - making it the third-largest endowment in Kentucky, behind Berea College and the University of Kentucky. It has allowed U of L to weather the downturn in the economy and reductions in state funding without large-scale layoffs.
In his 10 years, U of L's average ACT scores for incoming freshmen have risen from 23.2 to 25. Six-year graduation rates increased from 33 percent to 52 percent and the number of undergraduate degrees conferred rose from 1,849 in 2002 to 2,702 in 2012.
The number of doctoral degrees awarded has risen from 90 to 188 per year, and the school has more than doubled its research grants to $196.4 million from $80.9 million. The number of start-up companies based on U of L's research jumped from six to 49 since 2002.
Students from U of L have won 68 Fulbright Scholarships since 2003, and in 2010 a graduate of the school earned the top academic prize for students, a Rhodes Scholarship.
Ramsey said the academic improvement goes hand-in-hand with physical changes that began before he arrived. During his presidency, U of L has invested nearly $1 billion on improving academic buildings, dormitories and athletic facilities using a mix of state, federal and private money.
The projects include more than a half-dozen dorms, numerous sports facilities and research buildings on the Belknap Campus, improvements to its downtown health-sciences campus and the development of commercial buildings downtown and on the Shelby Campus.
The eastern edge of the Belknap Campus is lined with sparkling baseball, softball, football, track, soccer, field hockey and swimming facilities.
"When I lived on campus, it was a ghost town after 5 o'clock," said Minnifield, who played football at U of L from 1979-82.
As he heads into his second decade leading the school, Ramsey acknowledges that more improvement must be made.
When it joins the ACC, the school will have the lowest graduation rate of all the schools in the conference by 20 points.
Ramsey said he believes U of L needs to increase the number of doctoral degrees awarded each year to 300.
As for his future, he said that whether he fulfills his contract depends on his health and whether he believes the school is still "moving forward."
Information from: The Courier-Journal, http://www.courier-journal.com
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