The comment ascribed to Steve Pitt, attorney for Gov. Matt Bevin, suggesting that the governor’s action regarding the University of Louisville Board of Trustees does not raise any issue with the Core Standards of Accreditation of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools is either incredibly ill-informed or incredibly disingenuous.
Core Standard 2.2 of the SACS guidelines states in part that, “The institution has a governing board ... not controlled by a minority or by organizations or interests separate from it. ... the members of the board are free of any contractual, employment, or personal or familial financial interests in the institution.”
This standard is further clarified in Comprehensive Standard 3.2.4 which states in full: “The governing board is free from undue influence from political, religious or other external bodies and protects the institution from such influence.”
The governor and his office clearly appear to have applied exceptional, in fact terminal, external political pressure to control the entire character of the board. Further, it is possible three members of the proposed board may also present concerns regarding financial interests. One is reported as having direct business ties to the university, and two others are said to have direct ties to the university foundation.
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The foundation is a separately governed organization, but overlap between the governance of the university and the governance of the foundation with its role in funding many aspects of the university may well raise accreditation concerns.
Over the last 20 plus years, I have been a senior academic administrator holding positions of center director, associate dean, dean and academic vice-president in various Kentucky colleges and universities. I have been involved with, to the best of my count, six separate SACS accreditation audits. I have also served as a team member on several audits of other institutions.
Bevin and his folks do not seem to understand two key aspects of academic accreditation. The first is that a SACS audit is not like some sort of application for membership in the Better Business Bureau; nice to have but not really all that worrisome. This accreditation holds life-or-death power over accredited institutions, particularly when core standards are involved. Any substantiated violation can lead to immediate sanction.
Second, and this may be hard for a governor from a business background who seems to think of himself as the CEO of Kentucky to appreciate, SACS audits are not conducted by an administrative agency.
They are conducted by teams of faculty members and administrators from peer institutions. Colleges and universities are characterized by shared governance, and the academic norms of faculty and administrators provide the core framework for evaluating compliance. The closest parallel might be if employee-owned businesses were inspected for compliance with various mandatory standards by employees and managers from other employee-owned businesses.
Sorry, attorney Pitt. Regardless of whether or not there are serious problems at U of L, there are now also serious accreditation risks for the university arising directly from the governor’s action.
David L. Arnold of Versailles, a retired college administrator, is a volunteer consultant for nonprofits.
At issue: Aug. 26 Herald-Leader article, “Bevin’s overhaul of U of L board raises ‘significant’ accreditation issues“