January 6, 2017

Plan to abolish board of trustees headed to House vote

The Louisville Cardinal News

By Olivia Krauth–

Senate Bill 12, which would abolish U of L’s Board of Trustees, passed a committee vote 13-5 today.

If enacted, the bill would reduce the board to 10 appointed members, which Gov. Matt Bevin would select from a list of 30 people. Sen. Robert Stivers said the overhaul is necessary as the current board does not meet state requirements for racial and political diversity.

U of L professor Susan Jarosi and SGA President Aaron Vance spoke on behalf of U of L – the first time U of L voices were allowed to speak on the bill.

“Every aspect of his argument is mistaken,” Jarosi said, referring to Stivers as “arrogant” and “reckless.” Jarosi said current trustees are solving dysfunction, crediting board of trustees chair Larry Benz for his leadership.

“I’m worried about the value of my degree,” Vance said. “We want to make sure we didn’t waste four years of our lives and $80,000.”

When asked about student opinion, Vance said nearly every student is concerned about U of L’s accreditation.

U of L’s accrediting body, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, placed the school on probation in December due to Bevin’s executive order that abolished the board of trustees in June, citing undue political influence. Probation is the last step before losing accreditation, causing credits to be untransferable and awarded degrees to be devalued.

“I think it is extremely reckless for people to say, ‘Accreditation going to be lost,'” Stivers said. Two of Stivers’ daughters are at U of L, prompting one representative to ask if he is willing to “put his children’s degrees on the line.”

SACS President Belle Wheelen told the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting you would not hear her say U of L’s accreditation is not at risk.

“To retain its accreditation, the university must follow state law but also comply with the SACS principles. If any new legislation permits us to meet both sets of requirements, the university will benefit. The goal for all involved is for the university to be in full compliance with our accrediting body and removed from probation as soon as possible,” U of L spokesperson John Karman said.

Four days into a 30 day legislative period, Rep. Rick Rand asked why it was so important to pass the bill this early. Others said SACS is sending a detailed letter about U of L’s probation next week. A motion to table the bill failed.

Stivers cited dysfunction at U of L, including the board not passing a budget by deadline in 2016. Rand said all of the examples occurred due to Bevin’s actions of not filling vacancies on the board and then abolishing the board in June.

“It could be validated by the seven appointees,” Rep. Jody Richards said, asking why Bevin has not appointed trustees to bring the current board into compliance. Stivers said doing so would validate having a board out of compliance.

Rand said Bevin could have been a “healer,” and does not understand why the legislature is “playing a game of chicken” with SACS on accreditation.

U of L’s probation will be reviewed in December. The probation could be extended a year, lifted or SACS could move to the next step of removing accreditation.

The bill will face a full House vote tomorrow. If it passes, it will go to Bevin.

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