Governors would have greater authority in removing university trustees under bill that passed Senate

02/23/2017 05:54 PM

FRANKFORT — Legislation that would give governors broader authority in removing university trustees cleared the Senate on a 32-6 vote Thursday.

Senate Bill 107, sponsored by Senate President Robert Stivers, would allow governors to boot trustees from university boards or completely overhaul the board itself in instances of malfeasance, misfeasance, incompetence or gross neglect of duty.

Currently, board members can only be removed for cause.

Stivers, R-Manchester, said SB 107 came after Gov. Matt Bevin reorganized the University of Louisville’s board of trustees, saying the body had become “dysfunctional” and did not comply with state law regarding the racial and political makeup of the board.

Under SB 107, governors would have to notify trustees in writing before removing them and could not take action against an entire board if a set of appointments at the end of a fiscal year could resolve any political or racial concerns.

Stivers said SB 107 would help put U of L “on an appropriate course.”

“Additional items continue to come out about the oversight and the need to do everything we can do to remove any clouds over the University of Louisville,” he said in a floor speech.

Much of the friction on the U of L board stemmed from actions by former President Jim Ramsey, such as his handling of U of L Foundation funds.

Ramsey, as part of an agreement with Bevin, resigned in July after a new board was seated. The former board had also failed to pass a budget and tuition at the time Bevin issued his executive order.

But Bevin’s moves were invalidated by a lower court and helped land the school on one-year academic probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which has expanded its list of concerns at U of L following Auditor Mike Harmon’s findings of governance issues at the U of L Foundation.

Senate Bill 12, also sponsored by Stivers, passed the General Assembly in the opening week of this year’s legislative session, reorganizing the U of L board and allowing Bevin to replace it with many of the same people he named in his original overhaul attempt.

Senate Minority Floor Leader Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, stood against SB 107 because it would give unchecked power for governors. He would like to see the Council on Postsecondary Education have some veto authority over gubernatorial trustee removals.

“To say that they (CPE) can only give a non-binding recommendation really gives us no system of checks and balances,” he said.

Stivers, however, said the CPE was an arbiter under the original version of SB 107 but asked for the proposed language because it’s a body appointed by a governor that would then have to judge gubernatorial action.

Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, said he agreed with Jones that a governor could wield “undue influence” on university boards, but he supported SB 107 because it would help resolve some of the concerns cited by SACS in putting U of L on probation.

“We have been told in consultations with other people that this will help the University of Louisville get its accreditation off of probation,” he said.

SB 107 now heads to the House.


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