SACS blames Bevin for University of Louisville probation, silent on legislative fixes
The University of Louisville’s accreditation was placed on probationary status last month solely because of Gov. Matt Bevin’s actions last summer to abolish the school’s board of trustees while negotiating the exit of former university president James Ramsey, according to a letter from the university’s accrediting agency. But there are still questions about how SACS will view the legislature's fixes.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The University of Louisville’s accreditation was placed on probationary status last month solely because of Gov. Matt Bevin’s actions last summer to abolish the school’s board of trustees while negotiating the exit of former university president James Ramsey, according to a letter from the university’s accrediting agency.
But the letter from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, dated Wednesday, does not indicate whether the agency will be satisfied with legislature’s action last week to remake the trustee board in basically the same fashion that Bevin had sought in his executive orders.
In the letter, SACS Commission on Colleges President Belle Wheelan faults Bevin for dismissing the previous board made up of appointees former Gov. Steve Beshear without the due process called for in state law at the time.
Bevin’s executive orders establishing a new board whose appointees were all named by him would have improperly “concentrated his influence regarding the composition of the board,” Wheelan wrote.
While Wheelan does not weigh in on the legislature’s recent action, she said that any changes to state law and U of L policies need to include protections from “future instances of undue political pressure” on the board.
On Saturday, the Republican-led legislature passed Senate Bill 12, which scraps U of L’s 20-member board and replaces it with a 13-member board that includes 10 seats appointed by the governor.
After going through some procedural hurdles, Bevin could re-appoint the same ten members he tried to install over the summer, before a judge blocked the move.
While approved by the legislature, the action still results in the Beshear appointees losing their board seats without having been afforded the due process called for in state law.
“Senate Bill 12 unquestionably failed to provide any process, much less fair process to those trustees,” Attorney General Andy Beshear said Thursday in an emailed statement.
But a key question is whether SACS will care about the Beshear appointees’ dismissal – or whether the agency will be satisfied if the university can show that, from now on, there is a “fair process” for getting rid of board members before their terms expire.
“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,” Wheelan told WDRB in an interview last week. “So if the bill says all that, then sure, it will go a long way toward getting them out of trouble with us.”
Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican from Manchester, said last week that the legislature can address those concerns with a second bill he will push when lawmakers reconvene next month.
SB 107, which Stivers filed last week, would give the governor a new power to determine that any of the state’s university boards are not functioning and replace all their appointed members. It also would allow the governor to replace any individual members needed to bring a board into its required balance between Democrats and Republicans, or to ensure a board has the required number of racial minority appointees.
The bill also gives the state Senate confirmation power over trustees. Stivers said that power would have prevented former Gov. Steve Beshear from stacking the U of L board with Democrats in violation of state law.
Would the accrediting agency go along with Stivers’ vision for how the state oversees university boards?
Wheelan told Insider Louisville this week that SACS “does not identify reasons for dismissal. We just require they have some.”
The letter is below: