FRANKFORT (AP) — The accrediting body for the University of Louisville says it placed the school on probation last month because Republican Gov. Matt Bevin interfered with the board of trustees’ decisions and did not use a “fair process for the dismissal of board members.”
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges sent a letter to the school Wednesday detailing its decision to place the school on probation for one year.
Bevin told a Louisville radio station last week that the school’s problems were tied to the dysfunction of its 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 issued last summer that abolished and replaced the school’s board of trustees and replaced it with a new board of his choosing.
“The Governor’s actions demonstrate the board is functioning with considerable external control and influence and places in jeopardy board capacity to be ultimately responsible for providing a sound education program,” Wheelan wrote.
Wheelan said that 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.
Last week, the state legislature stepped in by passing a law to abolish UofL’s board and replace it with a new one appointed by the governor but subject to confirmation by the state Senate. Democrats urged Republicans to wait for the letter from the accrediting agency before acting. But Bevin said the law was needed immediately and said it would resolve the school’s probation.
A Bevin spokeswoman called the agency’s letter “nothing more than the same old news” and said the legislature “remedied the situation” by passing the law last week.
“It’s time for the University of Louisville to move forward with a new board of trustees and begin its fresh start,” spokeswoman Amanda Stamper said.
Wheelan’s letter is silent on the law Bevin signed. But it does say any legislation affecting the university must include provisions to protect the university’s governing board from “future instances of undue political pressure.”
Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, who sued to block Bevin’s order last year, said the law “unquestionably failed” to provide a “fair process” for the trustees. He urged the legislature to repeal it.
“The question is whether the General Assembly cares more about its loyalty to the governor than the students, faculty and their families at Kentucky’s public universities,” Beshear said.
But Republican leaders have filed a bill that would detail a process for removing board members. They plan to debate it when the legislature convenes next month. That bill would give the governor broad authority to abolish and replace the boards of any public college or university if they fail to meet certain requirements, including holding regular meetings, electing a chairperson or “reach(ing) consensus among its members in order to carry out its primary function.”
Republican Senate President Robert Stivers said that bill would “provide clarity” for the governor’s role in removing board members. But Democrats warn it would give the governor too much power.