It's not surprising that Morehead State University's Board of Regents has spoken out against a proposal to make the University of Pikeville a state university, since the change would cost Morehead a chunk of its service area and perhaps some students.
What is surprising is the harshness of House Speaker Greg Stumbo's response to the resolution approved by Morehead's regents on Friday.
"When all of the facts are brought out, I wouldn't be surprised if most of the board will resign or be asked to resign for how poorly they have served the people of this region," Stumbo said of Morehead's regents.
"By making this type of decision without all of the facts, it only makes them look small and petty. Kentuckians should see this for what it is: an attempt to block progress by a group of self-serving individuals."
If Stumbo were an ordinary legislator, this wouldn't be a big deal. But as speaker, Stumbo is the most influential lawmaker in Frankfort. He has power over the fate of legislation and the state budget, including projects lawmakers seek for their districts and appropriations for universities and community colleges.
For obvious reasons, no one wants to offend Stumbo.
Intended or not, remarks like his criticism of Morehead's regents are bound to have a chilling effect on what should be an open and frank discussion of education policy and Kentucky's future.
And it's not like Stumbo is keeping an open mind and awaiting the results of a study commissioned by Gov. Steve Beshear that's due March 15.
Stumbo and former Gov. Paul Patton, the University of Pike-ville's president, have been aggressively making the case for a public UPike, most recently at a one-sided hearing of the House Education Committee Tuesday. (We trust other perspectives will be heard in the future.)
At that hearing, Stumbo again called on everyone to keep an open mind and wait for the facts while at the same time declaring "the facts are clear" that Southeastern Kentucky needs a state university.
Stumbo is happy for Patton to present his facts, but he thinks Morehead should keep its facts to itself.
Officials of the other state universities and the Council on Postsecondary Education have been remarkably quiet considering the momentous long-term impact of what's being proposed.
Stumbo's reaction to Morehead's opposition provides some insight into the reason for their silence.
Increasing education attainment in Eastern Kentucky (and other under-educated areas of the state) should be a top priority for the legislature.
We agree with Stumbo and Patton that there is no better use for mineral severance tax monies set aside for economic development than raising education levels in coal counties.
But this session is already past the halfway mark, and there simply is not time to make a thoughtful, fact-driven decision based on a thorough evaluation of the alternatives.
Muscling through a decision of this importance on pure political power would be a big step backward for education planning in Kentucky and, like the Morehead regents said, a blow to the higher education reform law of 1997.