Education Politics

A bill that would overhaul the University of Louisville’s Board of Trustees — just as Gov. Matt Bevin did last summer — is nearing final passage through the General Assembly.

The measure passed out of a House committee 13-5 on Friday.

The bill mimics Bevin’s overhaul of the U of L board, abolishing the panel and then creating a new smaller one that the governor would fill with new appointees.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools put U of L’s accreditation on probation last month. U of L student and faculty representatives said they were worried that the bill would continue the school’s accreditation issues because trustees would still be removed without cause.

Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican from Manchester, downplayed worries, saying that the school’s accreditation is not at risk.

“It’s a probation but it would be much, much, more before it ever rose to the level of a core problem,” he said.

Stivers said SACS officials have told him the legislature has broad authority to reorganize state university boards.

“They have been very direct saying that we have the authority for all universities to define them,” he said. “And it is the voice of the General Assembly that will set those parameters.”

In an interview on Friday, SACS executive director Belle Wheelan said she doesn’t know yet how the legislature could affect the school’s accreditation. Wheelan said she believes the legislature’s actions to reorganize the U of L board of trustees come from good intentions. But she doesn’t know yet how the accrediting agency’s board will view it.

When told that legislators said accreditation isn’t close to being lost, Wheelan said that probation is a very serious sanction.

“The next step is a loss of membership,” she said. “I’m not sure if I were the president that I would say that. I think that the university is working as feverishly as it can to ensure they don‘t lose their accreditation, but I’m not sure I’d be so bold as to say it wasn’t in jeopardy.”

Wheelan said she’s given guidance to several lawmakers in recent weeks. She said U of L will get a formal letter about its probation next week, and that any complaints about “vague” communication from her agency is because the legislature is acting before the letter is out.

The House bill is slated for final passage on Saturday.

Kate Howard is a veteran investigative reporter specializing in government accountability and higher education issues.
Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.