By Kyeland Jackson —
Kentucky Senate members approved a bill abolishing U of L’s Board of Trustees, introducing a smaller board with senate-approved members. The measure passed with senators voting 25-11.
Members contested Senate Bill 12 on the floor, debating whether the measure endangers university accreditation. Originally a bill regarding dogs, an amendment was introduced to abolish U of L’s board and address accreditation endangerment.
“We do not have the luxury of time,” Sen. Stephen West (R – Paris) said.
Sen. Reginald Thomas (D – Lexington) said approving the bill would send a bad message regarding Governor Bevin’s influence to other universities.
“If we pass this bill…what signal does that send to other universities?” Sen. Reginald Thomas (D – Lexington) said.
Attorney General Andy Beshear filed legislation against Bevin’s executive orders in mid-2016. Beshear issued a statement today, stating the university’s probation results from Bevin’s actions, and SB 12’s passage would result in sanctions and possible loss of accreditation. Acting Provost Dale Billingsley issued a statement on the resolution, saying the loss of accreditation would inadvertently affect Kentucky.
“The University must follow state law. To retain its accreditation, the University must also comply with the SACS principles concerning the composition and responsibilities of the Board of Trustees, including its selection and evaluation of the university’s president, the university’s freedom from undue external influence, and due process with appeal from the dismissal of Board members” Billingsley’s statement said.
“If the legislation does not permit the University to comply with the SACS principles, the Commonwealth will be adversely affected by loss of the University’s accreditation.”
The Southern Association of Schools Commission on Colleges, U of L’s accrediting body, placed the university on probation for a year for possible “undue political influence.” Blame attributed from Governor Matt Bevin, who’s executive orders abolished the board of trustees and appointed his own hand-picked members. While senators argued SB12 would appease SACS standards, SACS president Belle Wheelen 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.
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.
“They turned the serious business of deliberation and legislation into a childish prank, stuffing language into an unrelated bill, sneaking into back rooms for unannounced committee meetings for secret rewrites; holding a vote without bothering to learn the likely consequences of their action,” Kolers said. “I am astonished to see such flagrant conduct utterly unbecoming of the State Senate. So the real take home from SB12 is that Senate Republicans are a street gang masquerading as a legislative body.”
SB12’s approval comes after House Bill 10, structured to approve Governor Bevin’s executive acts, was slated for discussion Jan. 4. Discussion on the bill was delayed for another session. Board of trustees chair Larry Benz said he did not know what SB12’s approval means for board committees, who are scheduled to meet Jan. 12.