Senate bill that would overhaul University of Louisville board of trustees moves to House floor after clearing committee

01/06/2017 05:12 PM

FRANKFORT — Legislation that would reorganize the University of Louisville’s board of trustees into a 13-member board is a step closer to passage after it cleared a House committee on Friday.

The House State Government Committee approved Senate Bill 12 on a 13-5 vote, with all Democrats on the panel voting against it.

The bill, likely up for a Saturday floor vote, would give the governor 10 appointments to the UofL board, down from the current number of 17.

That mirrors a previous attempt by Gov. Matt Bevin to reorganize the board on his own, an act that was struck down in Franklin Circuit Court after Attorney General Andy Beshear sued. If passed, the new law would essentially render an appeal of Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd’s decision moot.

SB 12, which would also require Senate approval of UofL trustee appointments, is one of a handful of bills pushed by Republican legislative leaders in the 30-day session’s first week and drew criticism from Democrats on the state government panel, who wanted to wait to hear from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools before taking action on the measure.

UofL was placed on one-year accreditation probation by SACS after Bevin’s reorganization, one of the chief concerns cited by Democrats on the committee.

“I sort of glean from your testimony that you’re not 100 percent sure that SACS will approve this,” said Rep. Rick Rand, D-Bedford. “Why is it so important that we pass this bill now with an emergency clause, that’ll be signed into law probably this weekend.”

Stivers, R-Manchester, said with the school soon looking for a university president, and the current board unable to take personnel action, that search needs “to get going” under a new board of trustees.

He also said prospective students are making their college decisions soon.

“People are looking at it,” Stivers said. “They want to know. They want to see these clouds cleared up, and I think this is the quickest, easiest way to do it. It’s not a hard concept.”

Representative Jim Wayne said loss of accreditation could bring numerous headaches to the institution, such as losing student financial aid, research grants and status in the NCAA.

His motion to table the bill until lawmakers hear from SACS and university stakeholders failed on a 5-13 vote.

“My understand is if a university’s on probation, it’s very, very serious, that we are at the edge of the cliff, and there’s so much at stake with regard to accreditation,” said Wayne, D-Louisville.

But Stivers, who said he’s had three direct conversations with the accrediting agency, and House Republicans on the panel said the current board is out of legal compliance with racial and political makeup and would continue to be so even if Bevin filled the five current vacancies.

In response to a question on whether he could assure lawmakers that the school would not lose its accreditation if SB 12 passes, Stivers sounded unconcerned, saying legislative action would resolve the matter. He has two daughters attending UofL and a son who was recently accepted to the school.

Stivers said he plans to file another bill that would require the Senate to confirm other university trustee appointments.

“It has not risen to the level of an accreditation issue, and it is my belief through both pieces of legislation, this will have little impact,” he said. “The one you’re considering today, it just gives the university the ability to move forward.”

Stivers cited 1992 legislation backed by former Gov. Brereton Jones that replaced every trustee on every university board, saying no university at that time risked losing accreditation.

Rep. Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, said the bill, which also required Jones rename half of the trustees to their posts, came in response to former Gov. Wallace Wilkinson’s self-appointment to the University of Kentucky board of trustees.


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