- Associated Press - Friday, January 6, 2017

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky’s state legislature is preparing to intervene in a crisis at the University of Louisville, fast-tracking a bill that would abolish and replace the school’s board of trustees at a time when its accrediting body has placed it on probation over concerns of “undue political influence.”

A House committee advanced a bill Friday that would replace the school’s 17-member board of trustees with a 10-member board, all appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate. The House is scheduled to approve the bill Saturday and send it to Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, who has said he will sign it.

The school of more than 22,500 students in Kentucky’s largest city has built itself into an athletic powerhouse with its recent admission into the ACC. But the university’s leadership has been in limbo for months, with Bevin abolishing and replacing the school’s governing board last year only to be blocked by a court order.

Since then, Bevin has refused to recognize the board that, made up of mostly white Democrats, violates state law requiring proportional racial and political representation. He has also refused to fill any of its vacancies. Meanwhile, the university’s accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, placed the school on probation for one year over concerns that Bevin bypassed the university’s procedures for dismissal of board members.

It’s unclear how the bill would impact UofL’s accreditation if it were to become law. Association spokeswoman Pamela Cravey said the board will not discuss the school’s status again until December.

“Once the institution can demonstrate that legislation, actions of the Governor, and the institution’s policies are in sync and that there is a fair process for dismissing board members … the institution would be back in compliance,” association President Belle Wheelan said in a statement.

Losing accreditation would be catastrophic for the university, as its students would no longer qualify for state or federal financial aid. But Republicans, led by Bevin, insist the university’s accreditation is not at risk.

Republican Senate President Robert Stivers - a UofL graduate who has two daughters enrolled in the school - said the legislature has the final authority on the school’s governance. He said the bill would “put a rudder on the university,” and would resolve any political influence concerns because it would require the Senate to confirm the governor’s appointments.

“If you ask the governor, he probably tells you he wants the board that he appointed. He’s not going to get that board,” Stivers said. “This was not what he (Bevin) asked me to do.”

Stivers noted that in 1992, the state legislature voted to dissolve the boards of trustees at all Kentucky public colleges and universities in response to former Gov. Wallace Wilkinson appointed himself to the University of Kentucky board of trustees. None of the schools lost their accreditation as a result of that vote, he said.

Still, Democrats continued to sound the alarm Friday that Republicans were moving too fast, forcing the bill through on the fourth day of a scheduled 30-day legislative session. The accrediting agency plans to send a letter to the university next week outlining its concerns and what it expects should be done to get the school off probation. But Republican leaders have called a rare Saturday session to pass the bill, and have placed an emergency clause on it so it would take effect immediately.

That is concerning to UofL students, according to student body President Aaron Vance, who said they want to make sure “we didn’t waste four years of our life.”

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