© 2024 Louisville Public Media

Public Files:
89.3 WFPL · 90.5 WUOL-FM · 91.9 WFPK

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact info@lpm.org or call 502-814-6500
89.3 WFPL News | 90.5 WUOL Classical 91.9 WFPK Music | KyCIR Investigations
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Stream: News Music Classical

Judge Questions Bevin's U of L Board Overhaul

University of Louisville
J. Tyler Franklin
University of Louisville

A judge on Thursday grilled the attorney defending Gov. Matt Bevin's executive order that abolished and then reorganized the University of Louisville board.

Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd didn’t rule on whether to temporarily block the overhaul, as requested by Attorney General Andy Beshear, but said a decision would be forthcoming.

Beshear’s office says that Bevin had no authority to disband the school’s governing board and that state law protects university trustees — who serve for six-year-long staggered terms — from termination without cause and due process.

“[Bevin] gave them no process whatsoever in this case,” said Mitchel Denham, assistant deputy attorney general, after the hearing.

Bevin abolished the 17-member U of L board last month in a surprise announcement, citing “dysfunction” and “enmity” between factions on the board.

Over recent years, divisions had emerged on the board between supporters and detractors of university president James Ramsey.

During the announcement, Bevin also informed reporters that Ramsey would be stepping down from his position, which he has held since 2002.

The governor then issued an executive order creating a new governing board with three appointees. He later created a board of 10 appointees, which he chose from a pool of 30 nominees put forward by the state’s Council on Postsecondary Education.

Though Bevin didn’t mention it at the time of his announcement, the governor’s office has since argued that the overhaul was necessary to bring the board in alignment with state law that requires the board to reflect the racial and political makeup in the state. The board had too many Democrats and too few racial minorities before the revamp.

During Thursday’s court proceedings, Bevin’s general counsel Steve Pitt said that if the court decides to reconstitute the now-abolished board, its makeup would be a “far cry” from what state law requires.

“We would be putting back in, in essence, an illegal board,” Pitt said.

Pitt also argued that the board was in fact not technically an “abolition,” but rather a “proposal” that the state legislature will have the opportunity to approve or reject during the next legislative session.

“The governor can’t abolish the University of Louisville board,” Pitt said. “He can only propose it, his proposal goes into effect temporarily, [and then] the legislature abolishes.”

Judge Shepherd seemed to side with the attorney general’s office during an extended back-and-forth with Pitt, suggesting that the governor didn’t have the power to issue an “indictment” of the board.

“These are findings of the kind you would normally have after some due process and a hearing and there would be evidence presented and a neutral decision-maker would make findings,” Shepherd said. “But here you’ve got findings, essentially, in this executive order that are made unilaterally.”

The two parties also argued over whether the school’s accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools was at risk due to the overhaul.

The attorney general’s office argued that the university’s accreditation could be hurt because of “undue political influence,” which SACS looks negatively on.

Connie Shumake, assistant provost at the University of Louisville, testified that there was no immediate danger of the school losing its accreditation.

“I don't think we're talking about anything that's going to happen tomorrow or next month," she said. “These things take time.”

The attorney general’s office has requested that the governor’s order reorganizing the U of L board be temporarily blocked. If that happens, the old version of the U of L board would be reconstituted.

Can we count on your support?

Louisville Public Media depends on donations from members – generous people like you – for the majority of our funding. You can help make the next story possible with a donation of $10 or $20. We'll put your gift to work providing news and music for our diverse community.