Education

She led a Kentucky university’s Board of Regents. Now she’s suing it for defamation.

Former Kentucky State University Board of Regents Chair Karen Bearden listened during a board meeting.
Former Kentucky State University Board of Regents Chair Karen Bearden listened during a board meeting. Courtesy Frankfort State Journal

The former chairwoman of the Kentucky State University Board of Regents is suing the school, its current board chair and faculty members for defamation, according to a lawsuit filed in Franklin Circuit Court.

Karen Bearden, who was appointed to the board in 2004, alleges that the KSU Faculty Senate began a campaign to have her removed as chair last spring by spreading the “malicious” and “false” information that she was engaged in an “inappropriate relationship” with a former Kentucky State president. The suit does not identify which president.

Then, faculty senate members and current board chairwoman Elaine Farris “publicly and falsely accused” Bearden of improperly influencing the search for a new president to replace Raymond Burse, who resigned in 2016.

The lawsuit alleges that Bearden suffered reputational harm, “disgrace, ridicule and contempt” as a result. The suit asks for punitive and compensatory damages and lawyers’ fees. Neither Kentucky State University officials nor Farris would comment on the matter.

Bearden still serves on the board, which hired current President Christopher Brown last March in a highly controversial search. Faculty were angry about the quality of the candidates and that the search committee did not consider interim President Aaron Thompson, who has since returned to his job at the Council on Postsecondary Education.

A week later, the Faculty Senate voted 50-30 in a vote of no confidence in Bearden because of concerns about leadership, finances and the presidential search. A separate vote of no-confidence in the entire Board of Regents also passed 39-36.

Linda Blackford: 859-231-1359, @lbblackford

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