The Senate approved a controversial bill Thursday that spells out the right of the governor to remove public university board members.
Senate Minority Leader Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, called the bill “a power grab” and said it gives the governor too much power to remove board members.
Jones and five other Senate Democrats — Perry Clark of Louisville, Gerald Neal of Louisville, Denise Harper-Angel of Louisville, Johnny Ray Turner of Prestonsburg and Robin Webb of Grayson — voted against the bill, but it was approved on a 32-6 vote and sent to the House for its consideration.
The state legislature already has signed off on legislation approving Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s executive actions last June that revamped the University of Louisville’s governing board. Bevin’s move is being challenged in court by Attorney General Andy Beshear. Last December,the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools said it put U of L on probation because Bevin’s abolition of the board put it out of compliance “with its own policy on board dismissal.” Bevin said the probation was due to the “public squabbling” on U of L’s board.
Questions remain whether U of L might face loss of accreditation.
Senate Majority Leader Robert Stivers said in an interview that he is confident U of L will not lose its accreditation over this issue. “Understand, they have many more issues,” he added, noting oversight of U of L’s Foundation. The foundation, a charitable nonprofit, is U of L’s custodian of donations and the manager of its multimillion-dollar endowment.
Stivers presented the Senate a committee substitute that laid out a more detailed process than the original bill for removing board members for cause, which is defined as “malfeasance, misfeasance, incompetence, or gross neglect of duty.”
In it, the governor’s office must give written notice to the board member at least seven days before his or her removal, and allow the board member to resign or provide evidence against the charges. The notice must be reviewed by the Council on Postsecondary Education.
Jones said the CPE should have veto authority over the governor’s actions. “There has to be some oversight of the governor. This bill is not fair.”
The bill still gives the governor broad powers to remove entire university boards, and creates Senate confirmation of the governor’s appointees.
Universities have remained largely quiet on the bill; the state’s largest flagship, the University of Kentucky, declined to comment.
However, it’s not clear if the bill would run up against the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ rules against political interference in higher education.
Stivers said he’s worked with SACS and university presidents on the legislation.