Discussions underway to have University of Pikeville join state system, Patton confirms

12/21/2011 01:58 PM

UPDATED WITH REACTION — University of Pikeville’s president and Kentucky’s former Gov. Paul Patton confirmed to Pure Politics Wednesday that discussions are underway with state leaders to fold the college into the state university system.

“it is being discussed,” Patton said. He said it developed as an outgrowth of a conversation with other state leaders — whom he declined to name — about how to improve the quality of life in Eastern Kentucky.

“This would be the biggest boost to Eastern Kentucky since the Mountain Parkway,” Patton said in a telephone interview from West Virginia.

The University of Pikeville is an independent institution that is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church. Its men’s basketball team is the reigning NAIA national champions and the university is known for its school of osteopathic medicine.

Joining the other eight four-year universities that receive state funding would allow the University of Pikeville to bolster its academic programs and help more students afford to go to the university, Patton said.

“The University of Pikeville does a pretty good job for the people who an afford it,” said Patton, who has served as president since 2009 and has been one of the university’s trustees for 30 years.

But he said middle class students in southeastern Kentucky need a regional university to help provide more economic opportunity.

“The only way that can happen is if we have a state-supported, economical, high-quality university in that part of the state — what I will call the coal-producing part of the state,” Patton said

Patton wouldn’t say how much in state support the university would require.

Making the independent University of Pikeville a state university would require approval of the legislature.

The Council on Postsecondary Education referred questions to the governor’s office.

Kerri Richardson, the governor’s spokeswoman, said the idea was brought to Gov. Steve Beshear. “He is considering the best approach to evaluating the advisability and feasibility of that idea,” Richardson said.

Patton also serves as a member of the Council on Postsecondary Education, which oversees Kentucky’s colleges and universities and sets tuition rates for public institutions.

Patton said he has discussed the efforts with the CPE’s president, Robert King, and has said he is willing to resign if his position on the council becomes an issue.

“I have made it plain to Bob King that if there’s ever a time when my presence would be a conflict, I would resign,” Patton said. “I don’t think we’ve reached that point yet.”

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, didn’t return a call for comment. But his office sent out a statement saying he was “aware of the discussions.”

“I have always advocated the need for a four-year state university in the deep mountains to educate our children and pull ourselves out of a cycle of poverty,” Stumbo said in the statement. “I would hope all of our universities would recognize this great need and join with us to form a plan that would benefit every Kentuckian in the long run.”

But Republican Sen. Ken Winters of Murray, who chairs the Senate’s education committee, said in a statement he just learned of the movement afoot on Wednesday.

“As far as I know, no one has discussed this issue with (Senate Republican) leadership,” Winters said. “In fact, I first heard chatter about it this morning which was only later confirmed by several university presidents who called me.”


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