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Commentary: Students, Faculty Are Losing In Bevin's U of L Game

Politically, there are no winners or losers in the struggle over governance at the University of Louisville.

Sadly, through mistakes by both Democrats and Republicans in the last several years, the worst penalties to be paid for the grotesque mismanagement and chutzpah at U of L will be paid by those who deserve it least: the students, the faculty, the hardworking staff and the alumni.

The students, because their hard-earned grades and burdens of tuition may be of less value so long as the university is burdened by accreditation warnings from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. American colleges and universities live and die not only by sports scores but also by rankings of their academic programs. Right now, U of L is poised for a fall from mediocrity to shame.

The faculty and staff, because they have been onlookers as the top administrators and politically appointed trustees  exercised the kinds of activities normally reserved for Wall Street. Many of the divisions and schools are under a cloud. The misbegotten partnership with Catholic Health Initiatives has unraveled; administrators have gone to jail.

Meanwhile, these hard-working teachers, whose own educations far exceed the products of U of L’s, must worry about what this job credit will mean on a resume.

Finally, alumni, for they have helped build U of L’s reputation in the last half-century. And they are in part responsible for the advancement of the U of L Foundation’s fundraising in recent years.

How proud will they be to declare their fealty to a university that is riven with political and academic embarrassment?

But Gov. Matt Bevin and his Republican acolytes have, if anything, made matters much worse. In an omnibus right-wing legislative package last week, they threw U of L’s governance into the pot with bills that quickly became law. If the accreditation problems at U of L continue, they will share the blame — perhaps as much as former President James Ramsey and his failed administration will.

Last year, when Bevin through executive order fired the old board of trustees and appointed a new one, it initially appeared he was breaking a logjam that was preventing needed changes at the university. He appointed some highly capable trustees, including longtime Centre College board leader David Grissom of Louisville.

But legally, his basis for doing all of this was shaky at best.

At worst, it was a clear step to shift power from a board that owed its fealty to former Gov. Steve Beshear. The fact that the trustees included big Democratic donors and, at the time of its dismissal, no African-American appointees, was despicable.

However, when U of L received word this fall that it had been placed on probation, the governor’s actions were blamed in part for that penalty.

Later this week, the accrediting body is expected to list specific reasons for the probation. Any true leader would have stopped action on the bill until he learned why U of L is in trouble. Not so Gov. Bevin, who always thinks he’s right and behaves like a bull in a china shop to get his way.

There may be short-term gains for Republicans politically, but the true losers are not the Democrats. Rather, they are the students, teachers and graduates who don’t deserve this treatment by either party.

Keith Runyon is a former editorial page editor of The Courier-Journal and a University of Louisville graduate.

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