Bevin's dismissal of trustees may affect University of Louisvill - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Bevin's dismissal of trustees may affect University of Louisville's accreditation

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) --  The University of Louisville is looking into whether Gov. Matt Bevin’s unilateral dismissal of all 17 appointed members of the U of L Board of Trustees creates problems for the school’s standing with its accrediting body, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Bevin’s move, announced Friday, comes as the university is getting its ducks in a row for a review by SACS done every 10 years.

The potential effect on U of L’s accreditation was the top concern among more than 40 faculty members who gathered on campus Monday to talk about Bevin’s actions.

SACS expects accredited institutions to comply with about 100 standards, including a policy that members of the university’s governing board can be dismissed “only for appropriate reasons and by a fair process.”

Another SACS expectation is that governing boards are “free from undue influence from political, religious, or other external bodies and protects the institution from such.”

In an executive order, Bevin abolished U of L’s board and created a new one with 10 appointed members instead of the 17 set by state law. He also created a three-member interim board to oversee U of L for about two weeks until his ten appointees are announced.

The moves came with a pledge by embattled U of L President James Ramsey that he would offer his resignation to the new board.

State law that says the governor can remove board members for cause, such as “neglect of duty or malfeasance in office,” but only after a hearing and finding of fact by the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education.

In 2007 – the last time U of L’s accreditation was upheld by SACS – university officials pointed to that law to satisfy SACS’ requirement that board members can be dismissed “only for appropriate reasons and by a fair process.”

But the governor did not "remove" or "dismiss" the trustees within the meaning of state law, Bevin spokeswoman Jessica Ditto said. Rather, the governor used a separate power that allows him to temporarily "reorganize" state boards, she said.

Bevin's changes are subject to confirmation by state lawmakers at the General Assembly's next session, which is in early 2017. 

"Gov. Bevin did not remove any University of Louisville board members. The entire board was abolished and a new board was created," the governor's office said in an emailed statement. 

Still, Assistant Provost Connie Shumake, U of L’s liaison to SACS, said she emailed the accrediting group to make them aware of Bevin’s actions.

Shumake could not say whether the changes actually affect U of L’s compliance with SACS’ requirements.

“We have started the process to analyze the impact of the board changes,” Shumake told WDRB News. “At this stage we don’t really know what’s going to happen next.”

Pamela Cravey, a spokeswoman for SACS’ Commission on Colleges, said she could not comment on the ramifications of Bevin’s actions because U of L hasn’t formally notified SACS of the details.

“Until we get something official, we don’t have anything to go on. We would need something substantive from the institution,” she said. “We don’t like to speculate when we don’t even know what the official situation is.”

The professors who met Monday – almost all of whom hail from U of L’s College of Arts and Sciences – talked about filing a lawsuit seeking to halt Bevin’s actions, which most said they believe to be legally questionable.

They also planned to write letters to Attorney General Andy Beshear – who said last week that he’s examining Bevin’s actions – and to encourage the previous Board of Trustees not to cede its authority.

“They have not been removed for cause; they are still the Board of Trustees,” said philosophy professor Avery Kolers, who led the meeting.

Shumake said U of L owes SACS a report in September detailing how the university complies with SACS’ requirements. The “reaffirmation” process then involves a visit to the school by SACS officials in early 2017 before a final decision.   

Cravey said institutions like U of L must meet all of SACS’ standards to maintain their accreditation. If they are short of any requirements, the institutions are expected to tell SACS how the issues are being addressed.

Copyright 2016 WDRB News. All rights reserved.

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