Education

Gov. Steve Beshear’s appointments to the University of Louisville Board of Trustees were in violation of the law regarding minority representation, according to an attorney general opinion issued Tuesday.

In light of the opinion, Steve Wilson, a well-known and outspoken member of the board, stepped down from his position, citing his concern about the board’s lack of diversity.

The board has the least racial diversity among university trustee boards in the state. Beshear removed the only African-American member, the Rev. Kevin Cosby, this summer when he made two new appointments to the board.

Beshear’s office responded to Attorney General Jack Conway’s opinion Tuesday afternoon with a released statement.

“The Attorney General’s Opinion correctly points out that the statutes require that there be two minority representatives on the University of Louisville Board of Trustees and that currently there is only one,” Beshear said.

“As I have said before, while we make every effort to comply with all the different requirements placed on these appointments by statute, because of all the different categories and factors required to be considered, and because terms expire at different times, there will always be situations when a particular board may not exactly fulfill every single requirement for a period of time.”

Kentucky law requires that the board have a proportional representation of minorities. In his opinion, Conway’s office says that since Kentucky’s population is comprised of 14 percent racial minorities, the 17-member U of L Board of Trustees should have at least two minorities.

“The Governor’s appointments to the Board therefore reflect less than the minority racial composition of Kentucky, and are currently out of compliance,” the opinion says. State law doesn’t specify any penalties or remedies for the appointments.

The opinion points out that in 2007 when then-Democratic Attorney General Greg Stumbo successfully sued Gov. Ernie Fletcher for disproportionately packing university boards with Republicans, Stumbo sought to have Fletcher “voluntarily undertake corrective action.”

Conway’s office thus asked Beshear to “voluntarily undertake corrective action to bring the composition of the Board into compliance.”

”At a minimum, the Governor should make every effort to appoint another minority to the next vacancy of the Board.”

Response to the opinion came quickly. The Rev. Clay Calloway, one of a handful of West Louisville activists who have been pushing Conway to weigh in on the matter, said Tuesday’s opinion did not go far enough to ensure compliance with state law.

The opinion states that Beshear’s appointment of Paul Diaz, a Cuban-American, satisfies one racial minority appointment and notes that the governor should appoint another minority.

Calloway said if one African-American is appointed, the board is still not reflective of the state’s racial makeup as required by law.

“It does not meet the intent of the law,” Calloway said. “In fact, you are splitting the baby.”

Calloway said the board should have at least two African-Americans.

Within minutes of the opinion’s issuance, Wilson, owner of 21C Hotels, resigned in a letter to Beshear. He wrote that he had “no doubt” Beshear would appoint an African American member to fill his spot.

“As a premier metropolitan research university, U of L’s board should reflect its community,” Wilson wrote.

Beshear’s appointments this summer precipitated the election of a new board chair, Larry Benz. The appointments and Benz’s election came at a time of increased scrutiny of U of L President Jim Ramsey’s compensation.

“I fear the lack of racial diversity on the board may hinder the positive progress the board has started to make under the leadership of Chairman Benz,” Wilson wrote.

In an email on Tuesday afternoon, Benz complimented Wilson’s “motivation and drive.”

“We will miss his independent thought, inquiry, and voice on the board,” Benz said.

In July, Louisville Public Media’s Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting first reported that Beshear passed over three black candidates for appointments to the powerful board, which lacks a governor-appointed black representative for the first time in 45 years. The board’s student body representative is African-American.

A separate KyCIR investigation found that the state’s university boards are stacked with Democrats, a violation of state law that demands the boards reflect the ratios of registered Democrats and Republicans in the state.

Earlier this month, gubernatorial candidates from each party criticized Beshear’s appointments to the board.

“It is unconscionable,” Republican Matt Bevin told WFPL. “It is wrong, and I would question whether or not it is racially motivated that our governor and attorney general have no qualm with — even though it’s statutorily required — having no representation of any blacks on the University of Louisville board.”

Democratic candidate, Attorney General Jack Conway, criticized Beshear. “That is not right, to have a metropolitan research university in a county that’s 20 percent African-American and not have African-Americans on the board of trustees,” Conway told The Courier-Journal.

Opinion

Letter

Reporter Ashley Lopez contributed to this report.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.