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Activist Accuses Attorney General of Ducking U of L Board's Race Issue

J. Tyler Franklin

This post has been updated.

A Louisville activist is accusing state Attorney General Jack Conway of refusing to weigh in on the legality of the absence of African-Americans on the University of Louisville Board of Trustees.

This afternoon, the Rev. Milton Seymore — pastor of Energized Baptist Church and chairman of the Justice Resource Center — plans to protest outside the U of L board meeting in Grawemeyer Hall.

Until Gov. Steve Beshear’s latest round of appointments to the U of L board in July, the board had black members dating back to Woodford Porter in 1958.

“This is the first time since 1958, since Mr. Porter was a member of that board, that this board is meeting without an African-American present on that board,” Seymore said.

The university’s last African-American board member, Rev. Kevin Cosby, left the board June 30 when his six-year term expired. Beshear filled three board vacancies, two with whites, one with a Cuban-American. In making his choice, Beshear passed over three black candidates.

State law requires the U of L board to “reflect no less than proportional representation of the minority racial composition of the commonwealth.” Seymore and other members of the Justice Resource Center and West Louisville Ministers Coalition asked Conway on July 21 to issue a legal opinion on the absence of blacks on the board.

Conway’s office said that the matter had been assigned to a staff attorney and was still being researched. Seymore says Conway should have issued an opinion by now.

“By not appointing any African-Americans to the board of the only urban university in Kentucky, Gov. Beshear makes his illegal disregard of African-American representation so blatant that Jack Conway’s continuing refusal to defend Kentucky law and court orders is prima facie evidence of official misconduct and denial of equal protection to African-Americans,” Seymore says in a press release.

In 2007, former Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher was sued for appointing a disproportionate number of Republicans to boards of state universities. Fletcher lost his bid for re-election, and his successor — Beshear — agreed to a settlement calling for the composition of those boards to comply with state law. The statutes at the center of the lawsuit contain “proportional representation” clauses not only for political affiliation but for racial makeup as well.

U of L's board is the only one among Kentucky's public universities without a single governor-appointed racial minority since Beshear's most recent appointments in June.

Beshear spokesman Terry Sebastian issued the following statement Thursday evening:

"When selecting board appointees from the list of names provided by the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education’s Nominating Committee, the Governor looks to experience, relevant subject matter expertise and a host of other factors to ensure qualified representatives on the university boards, and he extends his best efforts to fulfill the intention of the statutes when appointing members. The boards go through cycles where you have terms that are ended at different times, you've got appointments that come up at different times and again, the Governor tries, as much as he can, to meet all of the different factors that are in the statutes — geography, race, party."

Reporter James McNair can be reached at jmcnair@kycir.org or (502) 814.6543.

Disclosure: In October 2014, the University of Louisville, which for years has donated to Louisville Public Media, earmarked $10,000 to KyCIR as part of a larger LPM donation. Trustee Stephen Campbell has donated to KyCIR.

This story was reported by Louisville Public Media's Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

James McNair is a veteran investigative reporter who specializes in business and finance issues.

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