By Kyeland Jackson —
U of L’s Board of Trustees shuffle continued Saturday, after the Kentucky State House approved Senate Bill 12 by a 57-35 vote. The bill now goes to Governor Matt Bevin’s desk, who said all laws approved by the House would be passed into law Monday.
The bill mirrors executive orders by Governor Matt Bevin, erasing U of L’s current board of trustees in favor of a smaller board elected by the governor. The Kentucky Senate must approve Bevin’s appointments, which could fill the minority and political representation vacancies on the present board. Bill sponsor Rep. Jerry Miller (R – Louisville) said the bill will end dysfunction plaguing the board, possibly ending U of L’s current probation against its accrediting body.
At risk is the University of Louisville’s accreditation, controlled by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. SACS is the accrediting body that placed the university on probation this year for “undue political influence” and other possible infractions. That influence stemmed from Bevin’s executive actions in June, dissolving the board of trustees in favor of his hand-picked board. Attorney General Andy Beshear pursued litigation against Bevin’s original executive orders, and promised to continue the fight for other universities in a statement Saturday.
“If SACS (U of L’s accrediting body) enforces its written rules then the damage is done to the University of Louisville, but the governor’s claim of ‘absolute authority’ to dissolve any university board at any time for any reason still threatens every other public university and all Kentucky students and their families,” Beshear’s statement said.
Probation is a serious issue, described in SACS policy as often the last step before an institution is removed from SACS membership and loses its accreditation. A letter from SACS, expected in the coming weeks, is expected to respond to U of L’s current state of affairs.
“SACS doesn’t play games. They’re nonpartisan, they’re tough, and they think that you should abide by the rules that they lay down,” Rep. Jody Richards (D – Bowling Green) said Saturday.
University spokesperson John Karman said U of L, expecting a letter from SACS within two weeks, will work with Bevin and legislators to address accreditation concerns. Student Government Association President Aaron Vance said students fear SACS response, anxious about what it means for U of L’s future. Vance also called the bill’s hasty passage disturbing.
“The desire to act hastily and without the input of experts, the administration, faculty, staff and most importantly the students is the most troubling part of all of this. And, can only mean one thing: the desire to be right means much more than any risk that they don’t have to bear.” Vance’s statement said.
Senior Landon Lauder, who attended the general assembly, said the bill creates more problems for U of L’s probationary status, adding more undue political influence.
“I was absolutely disgusted with the way in which supporters of this bill were blatantly ignoring students, administration, faculty, and expert testimony. I received messages and read posts on social media about how legislators were refusing to accept calls or return emails from concerned students and faculty,” Lauder said. “People and facts were intentionally ignored. The only person being listened to in this situation was Governor Matt Bevin behind closed doors.”
Senate President Robert Stivers (R-Manchester) said the issue does not put accreditation in danger, citing SB 12’s ability to remedy the situation.
Former University of Louisville Foundation Chair Bob Hughes agrees with Stivers, stating the bill addresses the former board’s illegal composition, JRC settlement, court challenges and “rancor” between board members.
Council on Postsecondary Education President Robert King supported SB 12’s passage and said the legislature has a right to create boards for public institutions.
“Based on our review, we find no provision of Senate Bill 12 that is in obvious violation of the cited requirements and standards,” King said in a statement, referencing SACS.
“That said, we care deeply about the viability of the University of Louisville, an institution that plays an invaluable role in educating the citizens of the Commonwealth.”
King admitted CPE’s review cannot predict how SACS will react. Kentucky state senators called SACS responses “vague,” pushing for SB 12’s passage to elicit a response from the accrediting body.
SACS president Belle Wheelen previously told Insider Louisville fair process should remove board members.
“Once the institution can demonstrate that legislation, actions of the Governor, and the institution’s policies are in sync and that there is a fair process for dismissing board members, and that the reasons on which that dismissal occurs are identified, the institution would be back in compliance with SACSCOC Principles,” Wheelen’s statement said. Wheelan had no comment regarding SB 12’s passage.
If the university loses accreditation, financial and academic repercussions would be fatal for students, faculty and staff.
Loss of accreditation would mean U of L cannot play in the NCAA, receive no federal financial aid for students, credits from U of L would not transfer and awarded degrees would not be considered valid.
American Association of University Professors U of L President Avery Kolers called accreditation the university’s oxygen, labeling SB12 as an attack strangling U of L. University students expressed frustration and confusion at the bill.
“This bill is his (Gov. Bevin’s) attempt to cover up the first mistake he made, and it makes me sick because he is only making this whole thing worse,” Sophomore Melanie Mullins said. “He is still trying to get rid of 21 employees without cause. Making it a law won’t change the accreditation agencies rules and could lead to us becoming unaccredited. If that happens we are all screwed.”
“In terms of losing that, I just think the reputation of the school is getting hit for something that we have no control over. It’s kind of not really fair to the students,” Third year law student Jack Seiffert said.
“It’s definitely very scary knowing that your degree could mean nothing,” Sophomore Johnny McNicol said. “Not only the students that live here, but the people that work here too. People could lose jobs if accreditation goes downhill then you’re not a university anymore.”
“I am surprised to see that they are not taking their time as they have in the past,” Senior Brittany Chouhan said. “I understand it is a Republican led house, senate, and executive power, but the point that political parties are using their power instead of considering the potential outcomes before making sharp resolutions, revisions, and passing bills without chamber members fully taking the time to read them makes me as a Kentuckian and a U of L student very anxious.”
Asked what they would do if accreditation is revoked, McNicol, a pre-business student, and Mullins, a pre-medical student, agree to abandon ship.
“Transfer. Transfer immediately. Get out of dodge, pretty much as quickly as possible,” Mcnicol said.
“I would have to switch universities. Why stay somewhere and pay to go there if it’s going to be useless,” Mullins said. “Not because I’d want to leave but I wouldn’t have much of a choice.”