Claim victory, quit U of L fight, governor

Gov. Matt Bevin
Gov. Matt Bevin

Certainly young Matt Bevin, growing up in New Hampshire, knew of the legendary Vermont Republican politician and statesman George Aiken.

It was late in his Senate career that Aiken offered a brilliant and humane suggestion to get this country out of Vietnam: Declare victory and leave.

It’s exactly what Bevin can and should do in the fight over governance of the University of Louisville.

A blunt letter from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) makes it clear that Bevin can only further harm himself and the wounded institution he set out to help by carrying on with his now unnecessary battles.

SACS determines whether educational institutions within its region meet the criteria to be fully accredited. And in her letter, SACS president Belle S. Wheelan made it clear that Bevin is the problem:

“The Governor’s actions demonstrate the board is functioning with considerable external control and influence and places in jeopardy board capacity to be ultimately responsible for providing a sound education program.”

In early December — responding to Bevin’s single-handed decision in June, 2016 to fire all members of the existing board with no hearing or notice and replace them with a group of his own choosing — the SACS board placed U of L on probation.

While Bevin and his supporters in the General Assembly have dismissed as an empty threat the loss of accreditation, Wheelan wrote that if a school is on probation for two successive years without resolving the issues, it will lose accreditation.

Accreditation is serious business: Without it, degrees issued by U of L would be virtually worthless; students are ineligible for federally funded loans and grants; researchers won’t have access to federal funding; and the sports teams will not be able to compete in the NCAA.

The Republican-dominated General Assembly has already passed one bill, Senate Bill 12, trying to put this genie back into the bottle by creating a new board for Bevin to appoint, and another, Senate Bill 107, has been filed that would extend the governor’s unique control even further to include all public higher-education institutions.

A SACS vice president has told U of L, without elaborating, that the law signed last week “does appear to be moving in the direction of clarifying the process for reorganization.”

But there’s really little hope that either bill will solve U of L’s problem with SACS or get Bevin out of hot water in the courts, which so far have not supported his takeover of the board.

A Franklin Circuit Court decision restored the board which Bevin dismissed, and the Kentucky Supreme Court this week agreed to an expedited hearing on Bevin’s appeal of that order.

The irony is that all this is so profoundly unnecessary.

With the departure of former President James Ramsey, some board resignations and other spurs to improvement, the U of L board was, by all accounts, working well and efficiently to put the school back on track.

But Bevin will soon be making appointments to the smaller board created by SB 12.

The governor should make the appointments then ask the General Assembly to leave well enough alone by withdrawing SB 107 and move on to Kentucky’s real problems.