By Kyeland Jackson —
The Kentucky Supreme Court agreed Monday it would hear litigation about removing U of L’s Board of Trustees.
Attorney General Andy Beshear originally filed the suit, freezing Governor Matt Bevin’s sweeping reform for U of L’s board. Bevin’s executive orders erased the board and replaced it with fewer, hand-picked members. Beshear called Bevin’s orders an abuse of power, echoed by Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd who ruled against the governor. The supreme court would hear Bevin’s appeal for the case, which he filed shortly after Shepherd’s ruling. Beshear’s office said they will pursue the battle in court.
“Judge Shepherd ruled that Gov. Bevin does not have absolute authority to dissolve or reorganize a university board any time and for any reason,” Beshear’s statement said. “My office will continue to fight to uphold that ruling and to protect our students, university employees and all Kentuckians.”
Beshear must file a brief by Feb. 9 to begin the process. All documents should be sent to the court by March 23, allowing discussion and judgement on the lawsuit sometime after.
The supreme court’s decision continues heated debate stemming from Bevin’s executive orders issued June 2016. Cooled debate flared Jan. 5 when senators reworded a dog bill, Senate Bill 12, to a bill reforming U of L’s Board of Trustees. The bill abolishes the current board, replacing them with 10 members elected by Bevin. SB 12 mirrors Bevin’s executive orders, but require the state government verify his appointments before acceptance. The bill could fill minority and political vacancies, left unfilled by former Governor Steve Beshear.
U of L students and faculty expressed fear and worry for the bill, citing U of L’s probation by the Southern Association of Schools and Commissions on Colleges. SACS is U of L’s accrediting body, and punished the university for breaking accrediting standards of undue political influence and board removal without due process. Senate President Robert Stivers (R-Manchester) downplayed worries, stating U of L’s accreditation is not in danger.
But probation is a serious issue. Described in SACS policy, probation is usually the last step before an institution is removed from SACS membership and loses its accreditation. A letter from SACS, expected in the coming weeks, may give insight on U of L’s current state of affairs. Student Government Association President Aaron Vance said students are scared of the letter, fearing SACS response to SB 12’s passage.
“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, speaking on SB 12, Jan. 7.
Representatives questioned the bill, calling it a “power grab” and questioning implications SB 12’s passage would mean for other universities. Vance questioned Bevin’s powers in an editorial published by The Cardinal.
“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?” Vance said.
A new bill attests to Vance’s question. Sponsored by Stivers, Senate Bill 107 allows Bevin or an appointing authority to remove boards or councils deemed unable to perform its statutory duties.