House Speaker Jeff Hoover and the new Republican majority should protect Kentucky’s public universities by fulfilling their duty as a co-equal branch of government.
House Republicans should communicate to Republican Gov. Matt Bevin that he has accomplished the good things he set out to accomplish at the University of Louisville. Because of Bevin’s actions last year, U of L has turned a corner and is heading in the right direction.
But dragging out the conflict over the governor’s powers over university boards can bring only bad things to U of L and the rest of Kentucky’s public universities and colleges. Hoover and his caucus must see this. Kentucky has far more important challenges than picking a needless fight with an accrediting agency over long-established standards of higher education governance.
It’s time for Bevin to declare victory in his mission to shake up the scandal-ridden, dysfunctional power structure at U of L — as he rightly can — and move on.
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The House should help him by walking away from the unnecessary legislation that the Senate rammed through at warp speed Thursday with almost no consideration or debate.
U of L has already been placed on probation because of Bevin’s actions. It it loses accreditation it would no longer qualify for federal financial aid and research dollars or to compete in NCAA sports. The costs to the university and its students would be unbearable.
Kentucky governors have always had plenty of power to influence the state’s universities and colleges. But Bevin has persisted in claiming even more power over higher education for himself. Although a circuit court judge ruled against him, he continues to insist that the governor can abolish and create university boards, unilaterally dismissing trustees and regents without cause or process, thereby dictating removal of university presidents and other policies.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools will never approve such powers. Nor should it. Universities should be insulated from that kind of direct political interference.
The legislature clearly has the power to disband and reorganize univerity boards. But it’s unclear whether Senate Bill 12 would resolve U of L’s probation or put all of Kentucky’s public universities and colleges at risk of losing their accreditation
U of L, which is in the process of hiring a new president, will be unable to attract candidates to a university that’s being battered by politicians in Frankfort and at risk of losing its accreditation.
As U of L student body president Aaron Vance and others have urged, Bevin should replace the five trustees whose terms have expired, fill the two board seats that will open later this year, and move on.
It’s natural that Hoover and House Republicans want to support their governor. But this should not be a partisan issue. Kentucky needs an independent legislature regardless of which parties hold which branches of government.
Besides, the House Republicans really would be supporting Bevin by helping him walk away from a fight in which there can be no winners.