In the wake of last week’s executive orders by Gov. Matt Bevin to abolish the University of Louisville Board of Trustees and create an entirely new board — along with an interim board of three members — there is uncertainty over who will vote to approve UofL’s budget for the next fiscal year, which begins in less than two weeks. Additionally, an ad hoc faculty group has sent a letter to the ousted trustees, telling them they still are the legally appointed members of the board and urging them to file an injunction to halt what they describe as Bevin’s illegal executive orders, as this move could cost the university its accreditation.
The University of Louisville cancelled the previously scheduled Board of Trustees meetings that were to be held today, and university spokesman John Karman told Insider Louisville he did not know when they would meet again. The cancelled meetings were to include that of the Finance Committee, which was expected to take up and vote on a budget for the university’s next fiscal year — which begins July 1 — and send it to the full board for a vote. At the previous Finance Committee meeting on June 2, a motion to pass a budget including a 5 percent increase to student tuition failed when it did not receive a second, with several members calling for the administration of President James Ramsey to send them a budget proposal that did not increase tuition.
Karman did not know if the new three-member interim board would be the entity to approve the budget, or if they would have to wait for Bevin to appoint 10 members to the newly constructed Board of Trustees that he created with his executive order. Bevin called for the Governor’s Postsecondary Education Nominating Committee to send him the names of 30 nominees for the new board within 14 days, which would be approximately July 1. Karman said the governor’s office may be able to provide more clarity on the subject, but Bevin’s spokespersons have not replied to an email asking the same questions.
Asked what would happen if a budget for the next fiscal year is not passed by July 1, Karman said, “We’re looking at a variety of scenarios. I’m awaiting additional details.” Bevin’s office did not respond to an email asking that question, either.
Faculty urges trustees to challenge Bevin orders
Meanwhile, an ad hoc group of 47 UofL faculty met Monday to discuss Bevin’s executive orders, calling the removal of all trustees a violation of state law and a move that could jeopardize the accreditation of the university from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. In a letter sent to the dismissed members of the Board of Trustees on Tuesday on behalf of this group of faculty, UofL Philosophy Professor David Owen said Bevin’s move was illegal because they may only be removed after a finding of cause at a hearing by the Council on Postsecondary Education, and he urged them to stay on and fight their removal.
“First, we urge you to continue to consider yourselves to be the legally appointed members of the Board of Trustees, and to act accordingly,” wrote Owen. “Since no such hearings were conducted, nor any findings of cause determined, you remain the duly appointed Trustees, and as such retain your full powers and duties as the Board of Trustees.”
Bevin spokeswoman Jessica Ditto told WDRB on Monday that the governor did not actually remove any trustees, but instead used a separate power to abolish the entire board and create a new one, which she said can stay in effect until the General Assembly confirms such a move next year.
Owen’s letter also urged the trustees to either individually or collectively file a motion for an immediate injunction staying Bevin’s executive orders, noting that the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools mandates that governing boards be free from undue political influence and have “a policy whereby members can be dismissed only for appropriate reasons and by a fair process.”
“The Governor’s Executive Orders violate both of these standards of accreditation and therefore place the University of Louisville’s accreditation in jeopardy,” wrote Owen. “Further, we should consider how these Executive Orders might undermine the professional accreditations in the School of Medicine, Brandeis Law School, the College of Education and Human Development, the School of Social Work, and others. Further reasons in support of a motion for an injunction include the loss of political independence for the Board, loss of institutional memory embodied in the membership of the Board, and the immediate diminishment of the academic legitimacy and reputation of the University of Louisville.”
In Bevin’s executive order creating a new a smaller Board of Trustees with 13 members instead of 20 (with 10 gubernatorial appointees instead of 17), he said that move was so “members can more efficiently and economically oversee, govern and manage the affairs” of the university. He also stated that the Board of Trustees was “irreparably fractured and broken” and that “a strained relationship exists between certain trustees and the University administration,” which is damaging the entire university by “making it more difficult to raise funds through philanthropy and to attract high quality students and both academic and administrative staff.”
While the trustees had broken down into two factions that either criticized the lack of transparency and institutional control of the Ramsey administration or vigorously defended Ramsey, Bevin’s order stated the board “has acted in a manner that manifests a lack of transparency and professionalism” — without specifying who that criticism was aimed toward.
State board that sends nominees to Bevin may not meet legal requirements
Though Bevin stated at his press conference that the Council on Postsecondary Education would send him 30 nominees from which he would choose 10 appointments for the newly created UofL Board of Trustees, his executive order states — and his spokeswoman confirms — that he actually meant the Governor’s Postsecondary Education Nominating Committee, a separate body.
In a lawsuit filed last year against then-Gov. Steve Beshear challenging the lack of racial minorities appointed to the UofL Board of Trustees as required under state law, Bevin sided with the plaintiffs, and a settlement was reached in which the board could not take any major action until Bevin appointed two racial minorities to vacancies on the board. As of last Friday, the board still was awaiting Bevin’s two appointees, which he was to select from the list of names supplied by the Governor’s Postsecondary Education Nominating Committee.
In April, Bevin reappointed one member of the nominating committee, as well as appointed four new members — replacing two members whose terms had expired and two members appointed last year by Beshear whose terms were not set to expire until 2020. Just as the UofL Board of Trustees is required under law to have representation of racial minorities and political party affiliation proportionate to that which exists in Kentucky, so too is the Governor’s Postsecondary Education Nominating Committee — though this committee itself now appears to possibly violate state law.
While KRS 164.005 requires appointments on this committee to reflect, inasmuch as possible, equality in gender and proportional representation of racial minorities and political affiliation, after Bevin’s April appointments it is almost entirely male, white and Republican. According to state records, of the seven members now on the committee, six are male and five are Republican. Additionally, all seven members are white.
Bevin’s spokespersons did not respond to an email seeking to confirm the demographics of the committee members and asking whether its composition was in violation of state law — a question first brought up by Dr. Peter Hasselbacher of the Kentucky Health Policy Institute.
While Bevin indicated that Dr. James Ramsey would submit his resignation to the new Board of Trustees, his resignation letter to Bevin last week said he would only do so “upon a legal restructure of the Board of Trustees at the University of Louisville.” With Attorney General Andy Beshear currently reviewing the legality of Bevin’s executive orders and UofL faculty urging legal action to halt them — as well as the General Assembly’s option to confirm Bevin’s restructuring not being possible until next year — a settled “legal restructure” may be up in the air for some time.