It has not been a good year for the University of Louisville.
From the wood-paneled boardroom to the lacquered wood basketball court, there have been reverberations from headline-grabbing scandals. The school has been facing charges of misconduct, funds misappropriation, investment ethics violations, the resignation of president James Ramsey and his chief of staff, the resignation of the foundation’s chief fundraiser, the governor’s abolishing of the board of trustees and being placed on probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
And then there are the NCAA sanctions imposed on Rick Pitino’s program that could cost the team its 2013 national championship.
Through all of this, though, the school itself has kept its head up and its doors open, doing what large educational organizations are expected to do: teach, conduct research and educate, elevate and employ the city around it. And our city is better for it. Here are some of the accomplishments and attributes that happen behind the steady stream of titillating soundbites.
University students have earned 109 Fulbright scholarships in the last 14 years. There were five recipients of the prestigious grant for international study in 2017. Last year, there were 15 recipients.
“My life’s goal is becoming an immigration lawyer,” said one of the recipients, Dzemila Bilanovic, a 2016 graduate with a major in anthropology. “I am the child of refugees. I am an immigrant. I carry with me a burden, much like other immigrant children, to succeed. I don’t take that task lightly.”
The university has been named by The National Academy of Inventors (NAI) and the Intellectual Property Owners Association (IPO) as one of the top 100 universities in the world for producing utility patents in the U.S.
Among the more recent new patents were: a substitute bone graft material; software to detect areas of depleted lung function during radiation treatment; a synthetic compound aimed at eliminating gum disease; and a combination vaccine—called the hexavalent vaccine combination—that protects children against six diseases (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, Haemophilus influenzae type b and hepatitis B) at once.
Levi Beverly, an assistant professor in the university’s School of Medicine, has taken it upon himself to host a monthly “Beer with a Scientist” speaking program to involve interested Louisvillians.
The public is invited to drop into the Against the Grain Brewery and Smokehouse on East Main Street, to have a beer and learn about a wide array of scientific topics.
Over the three years that Beverly has been conducting the program, monthly topics have included the 2017 solar eclipse, artificial intelligence, documenting toxic metals in whales and personalized medicine.
But Beer with a Scientist is by no means the only outreach event the university participates in. (Though probably the only one revolving around barley, malt and hops.)
The School of Music offers free weekly concerts open to the public.
The school’s Signature Partnership Initiative is a 15-year-old program intended “to enhance the quality of life and economic opportunity for residents of West Louisville. The goal is to work with various community partners to improve the education, health, wellness, and social status of individuals and families who live in our urban core.”
Two federally funded $3.49 million early childhood education projects, directed by a professor of social work and a former school social worker, “aim to put at-risk children on a better path to learning and behaving at school and at home.”
The LGBT Center, run by assistant provost and director Brian Buford, has grown from simply a campus resource for students to become a model in helping the general LGBTQ community in Louisville. In 2015, a Campus Pride Index rated the University of Louisville “one of the 50 most LGBTQ-friendly campuses in the South.”
And several UofL programs, including the Survivors of Torture Recovery Center and the Brandeis Law Human Rights Fellowship, have been active in helping refugees and immigrants. The Department of Geography and Geosciences even developed an app to help refugees settle in the Louisville area.
Construction projects, both on and off campus, are providing almost a quarter billion dollars worth of work, according to Jim Sears, associate vice president of facilities management. In an article in U of L News, Sears said, “Over the course of construction, there will probably be the better part of 2,000 construction workers and their families [who] will benefit from this building investment. It is a very big deal.”
Even the breakup this year of University of Louisville Hospital and KentuckyOne Health is seen by the university as a win for the community.
In July, the University Medical Center, a nonprofit affiliate of the University of Louisville, took over management of the hospital and the James Graham Brown Cancer Center.
“The dynamic healthcare environment demonstrated that both organizations need to be more nimble to take advantage of the rapid changes,” says Gary Mans, the University Medical Center spokesman. “The new relationship between University Medical Center and University of Louisville will enable each organization to make adjustments more rapidly as both strive to provide the highest quality of care to all the patients we serve.”
Arts and Culture
The new Hite Art Institute, planned for a fall 2017 or early 2018 opening in the Portland area, is more than just a home for the school’s new MFA program in studio arts. It’s also part of an overall commitment to diversity by the university, which includes involving itself in the city of Louisville west of the Ninth Street “boundary.”
This commitment will include taking over an old building on Rowan and 16th streets, which Kimberly Kempf-Leonard, dean of the college of arts and sciences, hopes will serve as an anchor to a burgeoning arts scene in that area.
The 19th century steamer truck factory, most recently a furniture warehouse, has the size and attributes perfect for an art studio: high ceilings, a lot of big windows and big shipping doors for trucking in supplies. “We’ll be able to have 19 or 20 graduate studios, eight faculty studios and five or six work stations for ceramics, printing, sculpture, painting, etc.,” Kempf-Leonard says.
But she says there’s excitement, as well, about the opportunity to help revitalize the area and give the university a home base west of Ninth Street. “We’ll be able to use it for art shows, local community meetings and exhibitions. It will also give the art students an opportunity for outreach at the community’s schools.”
It’s all a good reminder that a large university can continue to function as a cultural and scientific powerhouse, doing good works even when ancillary headlines are proclaiming the worst.