By Aaron Vance —
Time and time again, Governor Bevin has contended that his actions regarding the wholesale dismissal of the University of Louisville Board of Trustees were necessary to bring the Board into compliance with Kentucky law. However, we now know that Kentucky’s court system has ruled his actions illegal and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools has deemed his actions detrimental to U of L’s accreditation and, thus, its future.
The Governor is correct that the Board is out of compliance with Kentucky law but, ironically, it is only the Governor himself who has the simple, clear path to immediately bring the Board back into compliance with Kentucky law, end questions surrounding the University’s accreditation, and put the University back on a positive trajectory.
Pursuant to KRS 164.821, the U of L Board should have 17 members appointed by the Governor and three University “constituency” representatives (student, faculty and staff). Further, “the Governor shall make his at-large appointments so as to divide the citizen representation upon the board to reflect proportional representation of the two (2) leading political parties in the Commonwealth based on the state’s voter registration and shall reflect no less than proportional representation of the minority racial composition of the Commonwealth.”
The current membership of the U of L Board is out of compliance with this state law because it does not have any Republican members and does not have enough racial minority members. Given Kentucky’s current state-wide voter registration, and depending on how independent and third party citizens are accounted for in this analysis, the U of L Board of Trustees should have approximately 10 members who are Democrats and 7 who are Republicans. Further, based on the state’s current population, there should be at least three racial minority members, as opposed to the one racial minority currently on the Board.
As suggested by the Franklin County Circuit Court and as clearly articulated in Kentucky law, the Governor has the exclusive authority to appoint the at-large members of the Board and, thus, resolve this unfortunate situation by himself. With five vacancies or expired terms existing on the Board today, Governor Bevin can – and should – immediately appoint five Republicans, at least two of whom are racial minorities. Additionally, by June 30, 2017, the terms of two more members will expire and the Governor can appoint two more Republicans. This approach will put the Board in much greater compliance with the law today, eliminate all questions in just a few months, ensure the University does not lose its accreditation, and immediately permit the Board to get back to the important business of governing the University.
I understand and respect Governor Bevin’s serious and valid concerns when he abolished the Board earlier this year. In fact, he should be commended for wanting to improve the University and put it back on a positive trajectory. Unfortunately, his insistence on being right and ignoring both the rulings of Kentucky courts and the guidance from the University’s accreditation agency, has now put the University’s existence at risk. In fact, Governor Bevin is putting the accreditation of the entire Kentucky public university system at risk; if the Governor can unilaterally change the composition of U of L’s board, what stops him from doing the same at another state school? SACS is correct in it standards that institutions of higher education in the Commonwealth must be free from any undue political influence.
On behalf of the current and future students of Kentucky public universities, I encourage the Governor to reconsider his position, rescind his executive order, and, immediately appoint new members to the U of L Board per the statutory guidelines described above. The risk of U of L losing its accreditation is presumably far worse for the Governor and for Kentucky than losing this political battle or court case to prove he is right.
File photo / The Louisville Cardinal