Attorneys for Gov. Matt Bevin and Attorney General Andy Beshear disagreed sharply Thursday in Franklin Circuit Court on whether Bevin’s overhaul of the University of Louisville board has put the university’s accreditation at risk.
Beshear said after the nearly four-hour hearing that the university could lose federal financial aid to students, which would likely cause an exodus of students and faculty, if the school loses accreditation, but Steve Pitt, Bevin’s general counsel, downplayed any risk of that happening.
Pitt said he expects the Kentucky Supreme Court will deliver the final legal word on Bevin’s move way before the university’s accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, makes a final determination.
Alternatively, he said the state legislature next year could approve the governor’s decision to overhaul the board.
The legislature’s agreement with the Republican governor’s move would require approval by the House and Senate. Democrats now control the House, but Republicans think they have a good chance of taking control of it in this fall’s elections.
The only witness at Thursday’s hearing was Patricia Cormier, former president of Longwood University in Virginia and a former commissioner for the Southern Association, where she evaluated schools’ compliance with accreditation standards.
Cormier, who said she was being paid $250 an hour or as much as $10,000 to testify for the attorney general’s office, said Bevin’s involvement in the resignation of former U of L President James Ramsey and Bevin’s abolishing of U of L’s governing board and replacing it with a new one appeared to violate the association’s core requirements and comprehensive standards.
She said it smacked of undue political influence.
Pitt and his assistant, Chad Meredith, objected to Cormier’s testimony. Meredith told Judge Phillip Shepherd that the only legal issue in the case was whether Bevin has the authority to reorganized the U of L board.
Shepherd, who issued an injunction on July 29 temporarily blocking Bevin’s overhaul, said accreditation should be discussed to help him and likely appellate courts.
Pitt peppered Cormier with questions for more than two hours, attacking her testimony.
Shepherd had planned to hold a hearing on accreditation issues last month in Beshear’s lawsuit challenging Bevin’s actions, but he gave the governor’s attorneys more time because their expert witness had to withdraw.
Rather than present a witness at the rescheduled hearing, Pitt filed a motion Monday to disqualify the testimony of anyone on the topic of accreditation.
Last month, Assistant DeputyAttorney General Mitchel Denham presented to the court a letter from Southern Association President Belle S. Wheelan to acting U of L President Neville Pinto, saying, “There is evidence of significant accreditation-related issues” at U of L.
The association’s Committee on Compliance and Reports is to consider Wheelan’s letter during its Dec. 2-4 meetings.
Shepherd has given attorneys on both sides until Wednesday to submit any additional legal briefs. He said he would rule on the case as soon as possible after that.