University trustees and gift giving

As often happens, when criticism, including on these pages, arose about an appointment to the University of Louisville board of trustees that left it without any black members, people argued that appointments should be made on the basis of qualification, not race.

That argument has its shortcomings, but particularly in light of reporting by the Louisville Courier-Journal that indicates a principal qualification seems to be how much money a potential trustee and his or her family have given to Gov. Steve Beshear, his son or the Democratic Party.

Reporter Tom Loftus found that UofL trustees have, collectively, given $750,000 to Beshear and his causes while the soaring total for University of Kentucky trustees is $960,000.

Beshear is certainly not unique in awarding these coveted spots to political supporters.

The status, access and sports tickets that accompany these board memberships have long made them plum appointments for a favored few.

But Loftus’ reporting, combined with the inexcusable lack of diversity on the UofL board and the growing cost of attending public universities, should give us all pause.

Raoul Cunningham, president of the Louisville chapter of the NAACP, said he wasn’t surprised that contributors get spots on the boards but the amounts — from a low of $9,000 at U of L up to $220,500 — were surprising.

“Most African-Americans don’t have that kind of money,” Cunningham said.

We’ll go even farther: Most Kentuckians don’t have that kind of money.

Consider that in the last decade, per capita income in Kentucky has gone from $27,709 in 2005 to $37,654 last year, an increase of 36 percent, nowhere near matching the growing cost of attending UK and UofL.

Tuition and fees for in-state students at these universities have risen, respectively, 103 percent and 107 percent in the last 10 years.

The estimated total cost of attending UK in the coming school year — including not just tuition and fees, but also housing, books and general living expenses — is $26,700.

Future governors must try to look beyond their donors’ checkbooks to find trustees who will work to make higher education easier on the checkbooks of all Kentucky families.

Herald-Leader, Lexington

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