University of Louisville Interim President Greg Postel invited the media to ask questions about the state of affairs at UofL Tuesday morning, saying while he has only been in the position for three weeks, his administration is diligently working on a long list of issues that are critical to the school.
Postel is not lacking in challenges as he takes the helm of a university that has withstood two years of adversity and currently is undergoing a dramatic transformation. Here’s a roundup of the wide range of issues Postel addressed in the 25-minute session with reporters.
Budget and tuition freeze
Postel said much of the focus of his administration so far is in preparing its budget for the next fiscal year starting in July, which he plans to present to the new board of trustees for approval at the meeting in May. While stating it will be a challenge, Postel said his budget would hold true to the commitment made to students to not increase tuition in the upcoming academic year.
While he is excited about the rare instance of a tuition freeze for students, Postel noted that this “poses challenges for those of us who are tasked with achieving a balanced budget, because we will not have additional revenue associated with tuition above and beyond what we have today. So that’s an opportunity and a challenge that we gladly accept.”
SACS probation and accreditation
Another main area of focus so far for Postel has been working to address the concerns of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the accrediting agency that placed UofL on a 12-month probation in December due to the executive orders of Gov. Matt Bevin restructuring its board of trustees. Based on the findings of a critical state audit of the UofL Foundation, SACS recently informed the university that its embattled foundation may also have violated three more of its standards, which Postel says UofL will respond to before its deadline on March 3.
Going into the new year, the rhetoric and debate already was heated over Bevin’s attempted executive orders and the response by SACS, but that has only picked up again as the Kentucky General Assembly has weighed legislation diving into the same matter. The legislature quickly passed a bill abolishing the board of trustees again and creating a new one — over the objections of some who believe this will further harm the school in the eyes of SACS — which has now been filled with Bevin’s new appointees. Senate President Robert Stivers has filed another bill that would allow the governor to dismiss any trustee from any university board if he deems the body cannot “reach consensus” in meeting the school’s mission, which critics fear could jeopardize the accreditation of every public college in the state.
Asked what state government should or shouldn’t do to help UofL in its current situation — based on his own conversations with SACS officials — Postel said “there has been an active dialogue with the governor and members of the state legislature” about this issue to find a resolution to the complicated process, with all having good intentions.
“What I can tell you is all of the legislators we’ve talked to are keenly aware of the issue, they understand how critical it is for the university for the issues with SACS to be resolved, and they all have very good intentions to help the University of Louisville through this process,” said Postel. “And I think what’s taking place now is a dialogue to understand the best way to accomplish that, in terms of the wording of legislation so that it’s consistent with the objectives and needs of the accrediting organization.”
Asked if the bill signed into law recreating the board of trustees exacerbated the concerns of SACS, Postel replied that “We have no indication at this point that that’s the case. We’ve not been told that. So it would be speculative to say.”
As for Stivers’ bill, Postel said it is “still a work in progress and has not been presented for a vote. So it’s kind of hard to comment on a moving target. They’re gaining information and working together to refine that bill so that it’s the best it can be.”
The (long) presidential search ahead
The search for a new and permanent president of the university is entirely in the hands of its board of trustees, Postel said, but it is expected to be a long multi-step process. He said the trustees will meet this week to discuss the composition of a search committee, but they eventually will select and hire a firm to conduct the search, which could drag on well into next year.
“I’ve been told to expect that I could be in this role for about a year and a half or so, which I’m prepared to do,” said Postel.
Asked if he was interested in the permanent position as president, Postel said he would not actively campaign for the job, but would at least consider it if the board asked him to do so.
“I’ve been here 23 years and I have always been happy to do whatever the University of Louisville has asked me to do, if I feel I’m qualified and if they feel I’m qualified,” said Postel. “So I think the future is somewhat hard to predict. It’s not my intent to actively campaign for the position.”
Performance-based funding initiative
Gov. Bevin has touted his desire for a portion of higher education funding to be performance-based or outcome-based, with emphasis placed on graduating students with degrees in fields that are sought after by local employers. While the governor implied in his annual address to the General Assembly last week that some university presidents are not keen on such a funding model, Postel said he was “very much in favor” of it.
“Even though I’m an academic at heart, I have a very business-like approach to running an organization, because I think it’s the best way to do things,” said Postel. “A business has to be viable if it’s going to be around in the future, and it’s a mistake for organizations to not think that the resources that they have are going to be related to their productivity and meeting metrics and serving the needs of the city, state and nation, for that matter. So I think to be held accountable and be paid at least in part based on some kind of metrics is an expectation we should all have.”
Postel added that an increased focus on STEM degrees would not necessarily harm other important fields of education, but “we need to make sure that the graduates we’re producing are employable. So what are the workforce needs of the city and the state, and are we meeting that?”
University Hospital transition from KentuckyOne
The transition away from the joint operating agreement between KentuckyOne Health and University Hospital is “going very well,” Postel said, and should go off without a hitch when it is finalized this summer and the university once again takes over management.
“People would be amazed if they knew the number of people and the number of committees focused on that,” said Postel, noting that the University Medical Center and KentuckyOne each has hired a consultant and national legal counsel to assist with the transition. “So we’re right on target. I’m not concerned about the ability to have UMC regain management of the hospital on July 1.”
Yum! Center lease
While public and private conversations continue to take place between the officials of the city, state, university and Louisville Arena Authority about the troubled financing of the KFC Yum! Center, Postel said the university has yet to be asked to make any specific changes to its long-term lease of the area.
“We have not been asked specifically to make any changes at this point,” said Postel. “We are open to a dialogue about what a restructured financing arrangement would look like. So obviously we intend to be fully cooperative and participatory in that conversation to understand what is needed.”
Postel said he is new to these conversations about the university’s lease and he doesn’t “have enough information yet” to have an opinion on how much the school should be willing to give up each year. Some critics have said the lease is too favorable to the men’s basketball program, which is easily the most profitable in the country.
There are no new developments in the NCAA investigation of the UofL’s men’s basketball escort scandal, but Postel reiterated the university’s position that additional self-imposed sanctions beyond last year’s postseason ban are not necessary.
“I feel comfortable with us playing in the tournament this year,” said Postel. “We have not been asked to go further.”