University of Louisville placed on one-year probation by accrediting agency after Bevin reshuffles board

12/06/2016 02:11 PM

UPDATED — The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges has placed the University of Louisville on one-year probation based on actions by Gov. Matt Bevin in reorganizing the university’s board of trustees, which led to former President Jim Ramsey’s decision to exit the school.

The university, which will maintain its accreditation, announced the accrediting agency’s decision in a news release Tuesday. SACS cited issues pertaining to the selection and evaluation of the university president, external influence and board of trustee dismissal, according to the release.

The one-year probation could be extended for an additional year. UofL had been the subject of a routine accreditation reaffirmation by SACS.

Acting UofL President Neville Pinto said during a press conference Tuesday that SACS’s decision to put the university of probation for the first time ever was “disappointing,” but he stressed that the school maintained its accreditation and would correct any issues brought to its attention in the accrediting agency’s official letter to the school in January.

“Our probationary status has no impact on student degrees or our ability to receive federal funding for student financial aid or research,” Pinto told reporters. “This is not a reflection on our academic rigor or research mission.”

“Full accreditation is very important to the university, to our students, faculty and staff, and to the city and to our state,” he added. “We need to have issues surrounding our accreditation resolved as quickly as possible.”

Concerns from SACS first emerged in an Aug. 18 letter to the university, according to testimony in a lawsuit filed against Bevin by Attorney General Andy Beshear challenging his legal authority to reorganize the university’s board.

Bevin announced his decision to reorganize the UofL board June 17, which included a letter from Ramsey indicating he would offer his resignation or retirement once a new board was seated.

Ramsey stepped down, but Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd reinstated the former board through a temporary injunction before ruling against Bevin Sept. 28.

Pinto said he spoke with Bevin by phone on Tuesday, and he was careful not to place blame for the school’s probationary status directly on the governor’s shoulders. The acting president said the university looked “forward to working with the Governor’s Office to resolve this important issue” once SACS details its reasons for placing UofL on probation next month.

The university will be able to submit a report indicating steps it will take to come into compliance with SACS’s core requirement on board of trustee membership before the agency sends a committee to visit the school next fall, according to the release.

“The governor has expressed to me the importance of the University of Louisville both to the City of Louisville and to the state,” Pinto said of his conversation with Bevin. “He knows that accreditation is important to the university, and we will work collaboratively together to resolve that.”

Attorneys for Bevin have appealed Shepherd’s ruling, and Beshear has filed a motion to take the matter to the Kentucky Supreme Court. Steve Pitt, Bevin’s general counsel, said in a response filing that the matter would be moot if the governor’s reorganization is approved by the General Assembly next year.

Pinto said he had not spoken with representatives of SACS about whether such action would satisfy the accrediting agency’s concerns with the university’s board of trustees.

“We have a sanction and that has to be removed, and we as a university are going to work hard to get that removed,” he said. “And I have full confidence in the fact that this is very important to the state legislators and the Governor’s Office want a strong university in Louisville, and they will work with us to remove that sanction.”

In a statement from Beshear, he said that Bevin has “inflicted great and substantial harm to one of our public universities” and should have seen the Aug. 18 letter from SACS as a warning.

“The violations outlined in that letter by SACS are the very same standards and violations included in U of L’s announcement today,” Beshear said. “The governor has dug a very big hole and has only one choice – rescind his executive order, dismiss his appeal and announce he will not support legislation that would impact the university’s governance. Otherwise, he will bury the University of Louisville in that hole.”

Bevin’s spokesperson, Amanda Stamper, disagreed with Beshear’s assessment.

“UofL’s accreditation is not at risk, nor will it ever be at risk because of any action taken by Gov. Bevin. Anyone who argues otherwise does not have UofL’s best interest at heart,” Stamper said in a statement.

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a Video Journalist for Spectrum News and covers Kentucky politics and all the goings-on at the State Capitol. Kevin was born and raised in Frankfort so he grew up around politics and has always had the drive to follow the political process and hold lawmakers accountable. Before joining Spectrum News Kevin covered government and politics for The State Journal in Frankfort. You can watch Kevin’s work weeknights at 7:00 and 11:30 on Pure Politics, available exclusively on Spectrum News, HD Channels 403 and 715. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135.

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