By Aaron Vance | UofL Student President
No one can deny that at the beginning of this summer, something was wrong with the University of Louisville administration. Our embattled president and Foundation were at the center of a quarrel that divided our Board of Trustees for months. Coming into my term as student body president and as the student trustee, I was well aware of this. I knew it was going to be a rough start, but I also knew the institution was stronger than a quarrel. Sooner or later, UofL would get past its temporary struggle and return to its normal course. But then, no more than a month into my term, Gov. Matt Bevin removed the Board of Trustees. The attorney general sought clarity on this matter and filed a case in circuit court, and then the governor’s newly appointed Board of Trustees was dissolved and the previous board was restored. The judge cited undue political influence in the removal of trustees without due process.
That board restoration still did not solve our problems. Multiple vacancies have blocked our institution’s progress. The lack of mandated representation for racial minorities and the subsequent agreement reached between the university, the governor and the Kentucky Justice Resource Center has inhibited our ability to take major personnel actions for close to eight months. Vacancies and interim leadership have become the hallmark of this institution. The positions of president, provost, vice president for Health Affairs, chief operating officer, and now close to half of our deans are filled by interim leadership. The aforementioned agreement withholds us from taking major personnel action, including searches, and while the governor contends his board fulfills and remedies that, litigation has stymied any progress while we wait for an answer.
Similarly, the board Gov. Bevin created was supposed to reflect proper political representation, although it did not. Per K.R.S. 164.821 sec. 5, “The Governor shall make his at-large appointments so as to divide the citizen representation upon the board to reflect proportional representation of the two (2) leading political parties in the Commonwealth based on the state’s voter registration.” Had he done this, there would be more Democratic representation. While the current board composition is not correct, seven gubernatorial appointments by the end of this year will bring the board much closer into compliance. Was it really that hard to wait? By the time the litigation pans out or the General Assembly has time to weigh in and institute that measure, would anything have actually been gained?
My stance during this ordeal has been to find a resolution. While I respect and commend the service of board members, we need to know whether they were legally appointed or removed, and most importantly whether they were qualified to serve our institution and not impact its accreditation. It has become evident that none of those things were considered by the governor. Our accreditor has made its position evident: The inconsistent composition of the board does not support a healthy university. All of this boils down to our governor fighting in court to prove he is right, and the students of the University of Louisville deserve better.
UofL is made up of 22,000 students; every day, they worry about what they might see in the headlines about their university. They worry about the future of their education, whether they can pay for school, and what might be next. The governor’s actions have only made this worse and will not affect him if he loses his court battle. Sure, maybe his pride will be hurt and he will have to accept that he was wrong, but his degree won’t be in jeopardy. If he wins in court, or if the legislature decides to change our Board of Trustees yet again, then our accreditation will truly be in trouble. A UofL degree will lose its value, research money will be pulled, and students will lose access to their financial aid. The cost of this political battle has been charged to the students and alumni who are afraid for our alma mater.
Time and time again, the student body, student government and administration have been working to ease the fears of our students and communicate them to the governor. Our student senate has asked him to fill the board seats reserved for minority representatives while the court cases play out. I have requested a meeting with him. I have tried to get these concerns and fears across the best I can to represent my constituents. I wholeheartedly believe I have to answer to them, but does he? Every day I am reminded of my responsibilities to my fellow students, and every day I try to do my best for them. I cannot say the same about the governor.
Gov. Bevin: It is clear to us you are fighting this battle not for the stakeholders of this institution, but instead for yourself. I did not want to believe that at first. But as this has unfolded in court and on the political stage, it is obvious that you do not have our best interests at heart.
The fear of losing our accreditation is now more real than ever, and even allowing the state legislature to make this change leaves us at risk. Your decision here will shape not only the future of our university, but institutions across the commonwealth and across the nation. But please, I implore you to consider the cost. Would you rather ensure the integrity of the University of Louisville, or are you willing to forgo that for your own pride?
About the author: Aaron Vance is Student Body President at the University of Louisville. He is a senior majoring in political Science, with a minor in anthropology, and he’s a member of the McConnell Scholars Program and University Honors Program.