LOUISVILLE, Ky. — An accrediting body that put the University of Louisville on probation has signaled that Kentucky lawmakers appear to be “working to address” its concerns. The group responded after the legislature voted to abolish the school’s board and replace it with one appointed by Gov. Matt Bevin.
In an email to a top university executive, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges said the legislative action appears to be “moving in the direction of clarifying the process for reorganization.”
But accrediting group executive Patricia Donat cautioned in the correspondence sent Tuesday that she could not predict how its board would respond to the new state law, which sailed through the Republican-led legislature last week and was signed by Bevin.
“I do know that it will be important for all legislation, board documents and institutional policies to be aligned once something new is in place,” Donat said in the email, which was initially reported on by The Courier-Journal.
Republican Senate President Robert Stivers has filed another bill that would allow Bevin to replace the board of any public college or university if the board fails to meet certain requirements, including failing to hold regular meetings, elect a chairperson or “reach consensus among its members in order to carry out its primary function.” Stivers said the bill would “provide clarity” about the governor’s role for removing board members.
The accrediting group said in a recent letter that it placed UofL on probation last month because Bevin had interfered with the board of trustees’ decisions and did not use a “fair process for the dismissal of board members.”
Bevin told a Louisville radio station last week that the school’s problems were tied to dysfunction on the governing board, including “infighting.”
But the letter from Belle Wheelan, president of the accrediting agency, did not mention board dysfunction. Instead, it pointed to Bevin’s executive order last summer that abolished and replaced the school’s board of trustees and replaced it with a new board of his choosing.
Wheelan said if the school does not resolve the commission’s concerns by the end of two years, it would strip the school of its accreditation.
Loss of accreditation would mean, among other things, that UofL students would not be eligible for state or federal financial aid.
Meanwhile, Bevin made three appointments on Friday to the panel assigned to submit to him a list of nominees for the new UofL board.
Bevin added Betty Cook of Somerset, Janet Stephens of Scottsville and Angela Denise Minter of Louisville to the Postsecondary Education Nominating Committee. The seven-member board chooses potential members for public university boards in the state.
The committee selected 30 names to forward to Bevin during a closed session Friday, The Courier-Journal reported. Bevin will choose 10 people from the list to serve on the revamped board. His selections would still face Senate confirmation.
UofL’s leadership has been in limbo for months, with Bevin abolishing and replacing the school’s governing board last year only to be blocked by a court order. Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear sued to block the Republican governor’s order. The case could be heard by the Kentucky Supreme Court as soon as the end of March.
Bevin filed a motion Friday to dismiss the case, arguing that the legislature’s action makes the case moot. Beshear said the case should proceed to prevent the governor from taking similar actions against boards at other public universities.
Beshear weighed in on Bevin’s appointments to the nominating panel on Friday, saying the governor’s actions “show how a board can and should be brought into compliance — through resignations and new appointments. If he had taken similar actions with the University of Louisville, he would not have caused its accreditation to be put on probation.”