University of Louisville placed on probation with accrediting ag - WDRB 41 Louisville News

University of Louisville placed on probation with accrediting agency

Posted: Updated: Dec 06, 2016 05:22 PM
The University of Louisville's Belknap campus The University of Louisville's Belknap campus

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The University of Louisville has been placed on probation by its accrediting agency following Gov. Matt Bevin's attempt to abolish the school's board of trustees last summer and recreate it with new appointees. 

In a news release, the university said it remains accredited with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and the one-year probationary status has no effect on degrees, federal funding for student financial aid or research grants awarded to faculty.

“It is important to note that the commission’s decision does not reflect on the quality of our curriculum or our core academic strengths,” said Acting President Neville Pinto. "It is focused entirely on issues related to governance of the institution."

In placing U of L on probation, SACS -- according to U of L's description -- cited "issues with" its expectations that accredited universities have board members who can be removed "only for appropriate reasons and by a fair process"; that the board be "free from undue influence from political, religious, or other external bodies"; and the board is the body that hires, fires and evaluates the university president.

In June, Bevin said he was abolishing the 20-member board and replacing it with a board composed of 10 members. Former U of L President James Ramsey said he would offer his resignation after consulting with Bevin about the governor's plans to reorganize the board. Ramsey resigned in late July.

SACS has previously said there may be problems with Bevin's removal of trustees without due process, with Bevin's influence over the board and with the governor's "apparent involvement" in negotiating Ramsey's departure without the board's input.

While state law says U of L board members must be removed for cause and with a hearing, Bevin's lawyers have argued no individual members were "removed" from the board. The result of his reorganization, however, was that the existing trustees -- all appointed by former Gov. Steve Beshear -- lost their seats.

Bevin's newly appointed board met three times in July before a Frankfort judge ruled the governor did not have the power to implement the reorganization, placing the Beshear-appointed board back in office.

But Bevin told WDRB on Nov. 9 that the state legislature, which will be fully controlled by Republicans next year, will approve his changes to the board and "it will be done." 

In a statement Tuesday, Bevin spokeswoman Amanda Stamper said: "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."

Yet, the university will have to resolve SACS' concerns to remain accredited, Pinto told reporters Tuesday. At the same time, Pinto said he doesn't know SACS' precise reasons for placing the university on probation. He said SACS will explain in a letter in January. 

While it's possible U of L's probation could be extended for another year, Pinto said he "fully expects" a resolution by the fall of 2017. Asked how he can sure, Pinto said: "It's because the issue is so important to everybody."

Attorney General Andy Beshear, who is fighting Bevin's reorganization in court, pressured the governor to abandon the plan based on SACS' action.

"The governor has dug a very big hole and has only one choice – rescind his executive order, dismiss his appeal and announce he will not support legislation that would impact the university’s governance," Beshear said in a statement Tuesday. "Otherwise, he will bury the University of Louisville in that hole."

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