LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The University of Louisville said Tuesday it has been placed on probation by its regional accrediting agency, stemming from turmoil involving Gov. Matt Bevin over the makeup of the school’s governing board and the turbulent departure of its former president.
In the school’s latest setback in a difficult year, UofL acting President Neville Pinto stressed the university remains accredited and is determined to correct problems that led to the one-year probation, which could be extended another year.
“It’s something that’s very disappointing to us,” Pinto told reporters on campus a few hours after learning of the sanction. “It’s not a good place to be, absolutely. But we are where we are now, and we need to get it resolved.”
Pinto said he’s confident the problems will be resolved by next fall.
The probation is based on issues with the accrediting agency’s requirements related to the school’s board of trustees, UofL officials said.
Those requirements insist the school’s governing board be free from “undue” political influence, and the board have a policy stating members can be dismissed only for “appropriate reasons and by a fair process.”
The sanction intensified a feud between the state’s Republican governor and Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear over Bevin’s attempts to appoint a new board of trustees to govern UofL. Beshear said Tuesday that Bevin’s “reckless actions” had harmed the university. Bevin’s spokeswoman countered that the school’s accreditation is not at risk due to any action by the governor.
Meanwhile, campus life for students, faculty and staff will be unaffected as the school’s top administrators respond to the sanction from the accrediting agency – the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. Probationary status will have no impact on degrees, federal funding for student financial aid or research grants awarded to faculty, Pinto said.
“This is not a reflection on our academic rigor or research mission,” he said.
UofL’s governing board has been in limbo for months.
Bevin issued an executive order abolishing UofL’s board of trustees in June. The university president at the time, James Ramsey, announced he would offer his resignation to a board of new Bevin appointments. The new board eventually accepted Ramsey’s resignation.
Beshear challenged Bevin’s authority to abolish and replace the board, saying Bevin’s moves were unconstitutional. A judge ruled against the governor, in part due to concerns the action would jeopardize UofL’s accreditation. Bevin has appealed the ruling.
On Tuesday, Beshear responded to UofL’s probation with biting criticism of the governor, saying: “In his pursuit of absolute authority, Gov. Bevin has inflicted great and substantial harm to one of our public universities.”
Beshear cited an August letter to Pinto from the president of the accrediting agency, which the attorney general said foreshadowed the sanctions against UofL. In the letter, Belle Wheelan said Bevin’s order to abolish and replace the UofL board of trustees, and his “apparent involvement” in the negotiations of Ramsey’s resignation, had interfered with the board’s decision-making authority.
“We determined that there is evidence of significant accreditation-related issues,” Wheelan wrote in the letter, adding: “The potential for undue political influence in institutional governance appears to be present.”
Beshear said Bevin “has dug a very big hole and has only one choice — rescind his executive order, dismiss his appeal and announce he will not support legislation that would impact the university’s governance. Otherwise, he will bury the University of Louisville in that hole.”
Bevin’s office shot back Tuesday afternoon.
“UofL’s accreditation is not at risk, nor will it ever be at risk because of any action taken by Gov. Bevin,” his spokeswoman Amanda Stamper wrote in a statement. “Anyone who argues otherwise does not have UofL’s best interest at heart.”
Pinto told reporters he spoke with the governor about the probation on Tuesday. “He knows that accreditation is important to the university, and we will work collaboratively together to resolve that,” Pinto said.
UofL will receive a letter from the accrediting agency in January detailing reasons for its action, Pinto said. The university will put together a response, and a committee appointed by the accrediting group will visit UofL, tentatively next fall, he said.
“Our goal is to resolve this non-compliance issue, and I fully expect that we will be accredited by the fall of 2017 without any sanction,” he said.