Bevin and the University of Louisville legal fight

Rather than risk the University of Louisville’s accreditation — and perhaps the accreditation of Kentucky’s other public universities — Gov. Matt Bevin should drop his legal appeal, appoint five new Republican trustees and walk away from this unnecessary fight before inflicting further damage.

Bevin’s response to U of L being placed on probation by its accrediting agency was stunningly divorced from reality.

His office tweeted a statement saying, “U of L’s accreditation is not at risk, nor will it ever be at risk because of any action taken by Gov. Bevin. Anyone who argues otherwise does not have U of L’s best interest at heart.”

In fact, U of L’s accreditation is at risk; probation, which follows a warning issued in August, is the last step before accreditation is revoked.

The action by U of L’s accrediting agency stems entirely from Bevin’s decisions earlier this year to interfere in ways that violated state law and longstanding standards that universities should be independent from direct political influence.

Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd ruled to that effect last summer and Bevin is appealing.

All along, the governor and his general counsel M. Stephen Pitt have scoffed at warnings about accrediting violations, as if Bevin is exempt from the rules that apply to others.

Bevin’s state of denial puts U of L in a pickle.

The university must demonstrate to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools that it’s no longer out of compliance with the agency’s standards, but U of L can’t do that as long as Bevin insists that the governor has the unilateral power to disband a university board, unseat all its members without cause, appoint new members and directly involve himself in decisions about who will be president.

Bevin is expected to ask the legislature, which will be firmly in Republican hands, to ratify the powers he claims to possess. If lawmakers agree, questions could be raised about the independence of all of Kentucky’s public universities, forcing them to defend their accreditation.

This is all just an enormous waste of energy and resources, especially considering that Bevin could, like governors before him, have helped bring about the changes he wants at U of L without violating Kentucky laws or standards of higher-education governance.

And he still can. The governor appoints 17 of U of L’s 20 trustees, and the terms of five of the 17 gubernatorial appointees have expired.

One of Bevin’s valid complaints about the U of L board is that it was out of compliance with a state law requiring racial diversity and political party balance. Bevin should use those five openings to appoint more blacks and Republicans to the board. And then declare victory.

Even if he eventually wins in the Supreme Court — a long-shot, based on the court’s ruling in a higher-education funding case earlier this year — it would be a dubious victory if it costs U of L its accreditation, thus costing students their financial aid, among other negative effects.

The U of L board that was reinstated by the circuit court is in the process of recruiting a new president, scrutinizing the university’s opaque charitable foundation and dealing with other longstanding problems.

U of L was a mess when Bevin became governor. No doubt about that. He should now stop making the situation worse.

From the Lexington Herald-Leader.

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