Ex-Commissioner: Any undue pressure by Bevin could threaten UofL - wave3.com-Louisville News, Weather & Sports

Ex-Commissioner: Any undue pressure by Bevin could threaten UofL accreditation

Gov. Matt Bevin (Source: WAVE 3 News) Gov. Matt Bevin (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Andy Beshear (Source: WAVE 3 News) Andy Beshear (Source: WAVE 3 News)

FRANKFORT, KY (WAVE) - Any conversations or contacts that Gov. Matt Bevin might have had with Dr. James Ramsey before Ramsey resigned as President of the University of Louisville, or with UofL Trustees before he abolished and re-organized that Board, could constitute undue political influence that could threaten the University's accreditation, a former commissioner of the accreditation agency told Franklin Circuit Court Thursday.

Dr. Patricia Cormier conceded she had no direct knowledge of what Bevin might have said or even whether he had such prior contacts, "but that in itself raises ambiguity," she told the Court. "It appears that established procedures were not followed for removal of Board members."

Attorney General Andy Beshear has challenged Bevin's reorganization as an over-reach of power that violates Kentucky's Constitution for separation of powers; suspending two statutes designed to protect university and college governing boards from political pressure.

Kentucky law, and the accrediting agency Southern Association of Colleges & Schools, or SACS, both mandate that University trustees can't be removed before their terms expire except for cause: criminal acts or neglect of duties. Due process grants them hearings to confront their accusers and to present evidence.

A Governor's power to create and abolish boards and commissions does not conflict with due process statutes, Bevin's counsel, Stephen Pitt, told reporters following Dr. Cormier's testimony.
"That statute is limited to removal of actual, individual Board members," Pitt said.

"It would allow the Governor to remove anybody at any time for anything he didn't like," Beshear said. "If it stands - all our universities could be out of (SACS) compliance."

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"The backstop is the Kentucky General Assembly," Pitt said. "They have to come in and approve (the reorganization). Such approval would appear contingent upon Republicans gaining control of the House for the first time in 95 years. Democrats hold a 53-47 seat majority.

Bevin's team had tried to exclude Dr. Cormier's testimony on grounds that she offered no solid definition of “undue influence,” nor how any of Bevin's actions might impact the accreditation decision. 

Judge Phillip Shepherd dismissed the motion, citing Cormier's SAC experience as insight into how reaffirmation or accreditation works.

"I was asking (Cormier) a hypothetical question," Pitt said, in answer as to whether Bevin talked with Ramsey or the Trustees.

Ramsey submitted his resignation after Bevin chose and UofL installed its new Trustees. The resignation stands, even though Shepherd ordered the board Bevin abolished to be reinstated until he issues a final ruling.

The restored Board remains out-of-balance, racially and politically, Bevin and Beshear agree.

"The only reason that the Board is not in balance is that the Governor has not fulfilled his obligation to fill the vacancies that are out there," Beshear said.

Bevin has vowed to take no action until the legal issues are settled. The Board's lone Republican, Ron Butt, announced his resignation publicly at a Trustees meeting last week. The Governor's office says its not received that resignation in writing.

Pitt dismissed the accreditation concerns as virtually moot.

"There's a good chance that about the time SACS gets around to making a determination, we're gonna have a final decision by the Supreme Court of Kentucky in this case," he said. "Should public universities be accredited? Certainly. But there's no statute on the books requiring that."

“Kentucky shouldn't have to codify common sense," Beshear countered.

"No accreditation means no federal money, no student loans," he said. "Every university to my knowledge that has lost its accreditation has shut down, loss of accreditation is a death sentence to a University."

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