LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The Republican-led state Senate approved a bill Thursday to abolish and replace the University of Louisville board of trustees, over the objections of Democrats who said there’s no assurance the measure would straighten out the university’s problems with its accrediting agency.

The bill, approved on a largely party-line vote, closely mirrors Gov. Matt Bevin’s executive orders from last summer in which he attempted to scrap the 20-person board and replace it with a 13-person board. But it also gives the state Senate the ability to confirm a governor’s appointees to the board.

Bevin’s actions resulted in the university’s accrediting agency, the Southern Association of College and Schools Commission on Colleges, placing U of L on probation last month. Among other issues, SACS expects the university to have a policy whereby board members are not dismissed without cause and are free from undue influence.

The bill approved Thursday would still result in the remaining U of L board members losing their seats without due process.

Democratic senators said Thursday that lawmakers should get assurances that the bill won’t exacerbate U of L’s problems with SACS.

“We don’t know whether this will harm or help the accreditation at the University of Louisville … this is not something to take lightly,” said Sen. Morgan McGarvey of Louisville.

But Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican from Clay County, said SACS has been “pointedly vague” about what actions the legislature can take to satisfy the organization.

He called the bill a “first step” toward resolving the issues and said the legislature would later adopt more specific rules surrounding board member qualifications and situations that could lead to members being dismissed, such as “dysfunction.”

“We will protect the independence (of the board) and develop a process for the university, to the extent we can, to keep them from undue influence,” Stivers said.

Belle Wheelan, president of the SACS Commission on Colleges, said in a phone interview Thursday that the organization cannot say whether any particular legislation would help or hurt U of L’s case.

But the university needs clear standards to protect board members from arbitrary dismissal, she said.

“There has to be a process, OK? Just a governor saying, ‘you’re out,’ is not a process. It’s got to be a fair process, and there has to be legitimate reasons for the dismissal,” she said. “So if the bill says all that, then sure, it will go a long way toward getting them out of trouble with us.”

Attorney General Andy Beshear, who successfully challenged Bevin’s overhaul of the board in court, said in a statement Thursday the bill – SB 12 – only furthers the potential “dangers”  for U of L’s accreditation.

“If SB 12 is passed, then the damage to U of L, the potential loss of federal financial aid to Kentucky students, and even possibly loss of NCAA participation is on the lawmakers who supported it,” Beshear said.

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