By Benjamin Hacht —
Pointing fingers is a trademark for the politically ambitious, but who is really at fault for the University of Louisville’s probationary state and continued controversy?
Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear blames Gov. Matt Bevin for accreditation woes at U of L. Bevin, in turn, cited board dysfunction as the root of the problem, defending his decision to unilaterally in abolish the board of trustees last June.
Bevin’s action was later ruled illegal by Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd. It has since been the focal point for U of L’s probationary status with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
It is evident that the original board of trustees had its issues. Primarily, its lack of proportional representation of racial minorities and partisanship, which violates state law. It is also possible there was some dysfunction among board members.
Understandably, Bevin attempted what he thought would be a quick fix by dissolving the dysfunctional board and creating a new one complying with state requirements for representation. However, Bevin’s decision to act unilaterally has had serious repercussions for the university and ultimately threatened its accreditation status with SACS, which placed U of L on probation in December.
SACS cited Bevin’s actions as the sole reason for U of L’s probationary status, and said four of the agency’s accreditation standards were violated by the governor’s acts. Bevin took to the media last week to downplay the hysteria created by SACS ruling and support the state legislature’s new statute closely mirroring his actions in June.
Bevin maintains the abolished board of trustees is to blame for U of L’s woes and that his actions, currently awaiting appeal in Kentucky’s Supreme Court, were justified.
Bevin’s refusal to admit his wrongdoing is reckless and problematic. Not only has the Franklin Circuit Court ruled his actions illegal, but SACS blamed Bevin for U of L ‘s probation, the most serious sanction that can be handed to a university before it loses accreditation. Clearly, Bevin’s attempt to maintain his innocence is a political maneuver and an attempt to save face.
Bevin endangered the University of Louisville through his desire to control the makeup of the board of trustees, a direct threat to the accreditation at U of L and all of Kentucky’s colleges and universities. It is clear Bevin believes he was elected to run Kentucky’s colleges and universities. Evidently, the state legislature agrees.
On Jan. 17, Bevin used his newfound power to appoint 10 members to U of L’s board, an act made possible by Senate Bill 12. This is a dangerous precedent and threatens the integrity of higher education in Kentucky.
Bevin’s hasty actions will not do anything to solve the accreditation problem at U of L. Even if U of L’s probation issues are resolved, the governor cannot have the power to abolish and redesign the fiduciary boards of higher education institutions when he chooses. It will prevent institutions from providing quality education absent of undue political influence and external pressure, an issue at the core of accreditation and institutional integrity.
Bevin’s excuses and justifications fall on the ears of students, faculty, staff and alumni struggling to understand how the actions of one man have potential to destroy the value of their degrees, their hard work and the integrity of their university.
It is time for the governor to be held accountable for his actions, and it is time for Bevin to collaborate, rather than dictate, with U of L, SACS and the state legislature to find the best solution to preserve the integrity, reputation and accreditation of U of L. If Bevin’s power is not curbed soon, a dangerous precedent will continue.