Pinto's departure a 'significant loss' for U of L

Darla Carter

The University of Louisville's acting president, Neville Pinto, will leave in February to become the new president of the University of Cincinnati.

Pinto, 58, was officially selected by the UC board of trustees in a special meeting on Saturday, opening the door for him to return to a university where he spent 26 years as a faculty member and dean.

"This is a unique opportunity to return to the university at which I have spent much of my career, but of course it is with some sadness that I will be leaving the University of Louisville," Pinto said in a statement released by U of L.

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The announcement of Pinto’s new gig comes just days after he expressed a commitment to making changes suggested in a long-awaited state audit that criticized the governance of U of L’s Foundation during former President James Ramsey’s tenure.

"Together, we faced a number of challenges in recent months, but I am confident that the worst is behind us and a bright future lies ahead for the University of Louisville," Pinto said Saturday.

Larry Benz, chairman of the U of L board of trustees, said he is confident U of L will be able to move forward as a premier university despite Pinto's upcoming departure. The U of L community will be kept up-to-date on efforts to find a new leader, he said in a written statement.

"Dr. Pinto and I are discussing a transition plan that will secure strong leadership for the university after his mid-February departure," Benz said. "I will also consult with the faculty, staff and student representatives to obtain their thoughts and input. A meeting of the board of trustees will be scheduled in the near future to plan for this change in leadership such that we have some overlap and ongoing continuity and momentum going into 2017."

Pinto has been acting president of U of L since late July. Prior to that, he had a four-year stint as dean of the J.B. Speed School of Engineering before moving into various positions, including provost.

His departure will be "a significant loss," said Hank Conn, a U of L alumnus and good friend of Pinto's.

In a press release, UC leaders praised him for his leadership ability and other worthwhile qualities.

“From the outset, it was remarkably clear that Neville Pinto is a leader’s leader, grounded in integrity and compassion and capable of bringing out the very best in those around him,” said Thomas D. Cassady, UC board of trustees chairman-elect. “As a former department head, vice provost, dean, provost and acting president, the breadth and depth of his expertise and experience rank second to none. Our board is delighted and excited to partner with him to elevate UC to even greater heights.”

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At UC, Pinto served from 1985 to 2011 as a faculty member in chemical engineering and established the Adsorption and Ion Exchange Laboratory, which attracted more than $6 million in external research funding for research in biochemical and environmental engineering, according to the UC release. He also distinguished himself as "a rising academic administrator."

Pinto took on U of L's presidency when Ramsey resigned after Gov. Matt Bevin tried to overhaul the school’s board of trustees. Bevin’s action was challenged in a lawsuit by Attorney General Andy Beshear, and a judge eventually ruled the original board was still in power. But the move raised concerns with the university’s accrediting agency, which placed U of L on probation because of issues relating to undue outside influence.

Benz hinted at the turmoil in his statement. "I want to thank Neville for his service as acting president during these past few months. His steady leadership and willingness to work closely with both the board of trustees and the U of L Foundation board has helped steer the university through tough times toward a bright future."

In an interview with The Cincinnati Enquirer, Pinto said he never intended to hold the U of L presidency permanently but rather to get the university “back to even keel and then move on.”

The university's recent controversies have included a sex scandal involving the men’s basketball program and an FBI investigation of Dr. David Dunn, the former vice president of health affairs, who was recruited to Louisville by Ramsey. U of L recently agreed to pay Dunn $1.15 million to leave. 

The university announced Dec. 13 that it was reopening the management arrangement for University of Louisville Hospital and the James Graham Brown Cancer Center with KentuckyOne Health. That arrangement will be terminated July 1, when the University Medical Center will resume control.

When the NCAA charged the basketball program with four violations in October after a 13-month investigation, Pinto issued a joint statement with athletic director Tom Jurich, saying they were “heartbroken that inappropriate behavior took place.”

Despite various controversies, Pinto spoke lovingly of U of L and the community in his statement.

"My family and I have grown to love this community," he said. "As dean of the J.B. Speed School of Engineering, I worked with tremendous faculty and staff, and together we laid the groundwork for an exciting future. As acting provost and then acting president, I have gained a great appreciation for my faculty and staff colleagues throughout the university. I am constantly impressed with the quality of our outstanding students."

In a press release, Robert E. Richardson Jr., chairman of the UC board of trustees who also headed up the presidential search committee, said UC leaders are "thrilled to bring him home to the university and the city that he and his family have loved for so long."

Cincinnati will be getting someone who's an outstanding leader, a logical thinker and an exceptional listener, said Conn, a Speed School graduate who's worked closely with Pinto on multiple endeavors. Conn is a benefactor of the Conn Center for Renewable Energy Research, which was established at the Speed School in 2009 and has had Pinto on its technical advisory board.

"He's an outstanding human being. He really is," Conn said. " ... I really will miss him, quite frankly. ... He's a good man."

Reporter Darla Carter can be reached at (502) 582-7068, DarlaCarterCJ on Facebook and CJ reporter Danielle Lerner contributed to this story.