Bevin should use his five appointments to U of L board, avoid risky legal fight

Aaron Vance
Aaron Vance

Time and time again, Gov. Matt Bevin has contended that his actions regarding the wholesale dismissal of the University of Louisville Board of Trustees were necessary to bring it into compliance with Kentucky law.

However, we now know that Kentucky’s court system has ruled his actions illegal and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools has deemed his actions detrimental to U of L’s accreditation and, thus, its future.

The governor is correct that the board is out of compliance with Kentucky law but, ironically, it is only the governor himself who has the simple, clear path to immediately bring the board back into compliance with Kentucky law, end questions surrounding accreditation, and put the university back on a positive trajectory.

Pursuant to KRS 164.821, the board should have 17 members appointed by the governor and three university “constituency” representatives (student, faculty and staff). Further, “the Governor shall make his at-large appointments so as to divide the citizen representation upon the board to reflect proportional representation of the two (2) leading political parties in the Commonwealth based on the state's voter registration and shall reflect no less than proportional representation of the minority racial composition of the Commonwealth.”

The current board membership does not have any Republican members and does not have enough racial minority members. Given Kentucky’s current statewide voter registration, and depending on how independent and third-party citizens are accounted for in this analysis, the board should have approximately 10 Democrats and 7 Republicans.

Further, based on the state’s current population, there should be at least three racial minority members, as opposed to the one currently on the board.

As suggested by the Franklin County Circuit Court and as clearly articulated in Kentucky law, the governor has the exclusive authority to appoint the at-large members and, thus, resolve this unfortunate situation by himself.

With five vacancies or expired terms existing on the board today, Bevin can — and should — immediately appoint five Republicans, at least two of whom are racial minorities. Additionally, by June 30, the terms of two more members will expire and he can appoint two more Republicans.

This approach will put the board in much greater compliance with the law today, eliminate all questions in just a few months, ensure the university does not lose accreditation, and immediately permit the board to get back to the important business of governing the university.

I understand and respect Bevin’s serious and valid concerns when he abolished the board earlier this year. In fact, he should be commended for wanting to put the university back on a positive trajectory. Unfortunately, his insistence on being right and ignoring both the rulings of courts and the guidance from the accreditation agency, has now put the university’s existence at risk.

In fact, Bevin is putting the accreditation of the entire Kentucky public university system at risk,

If the governor can unilaterally change the composition of U of L’s board, what stops him from doing the same at another state school?

SACS is correct in its standards that public institutions of higher education must be free from any undue political influence.

On behalf of the current and future students of Kentucky public universities, I encourage the governor to reconsider his position, rescind his executive order, and immediately appoint new members to the U of L board.

The risk of U of L losing its accreditation is presumably far worse for the governor and Kentucky than the fallout from losing this political battle or court case to prove he is right.

Aaron Vance is University of Louisville’s student body president and a political science major in the class of 2017.