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Governor's actions jeopardize educations

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By Christopher Brooke

As the husband of a University of Louisville student, I can’t help feeling anxious about the recent threat to the school’s accreditation.

In fact, I may well feel the most upset out of everyone I know. Any time the subject comes up, those I’ve been speaking to — reasonable people all — completely discount that the issue could get more out of hand than it already has.

After all, the university impacts thousands of lives and injects hundreds of millions of dollars into Kentucky’s economy each year, and it could hurt the students and the state irreparably if the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) removed UofL’s accreditation.

I realize that everybody from Gov. Matt Bevin, the Kentucky General Assembly, Attorney General Beshear and UofL officials want to resolve this situation in the best way possible — some of them have different perspectives on how to do that, of course.

But I also am well familiar with Murphy’s Law, which says anything that can go wrong will go wrong.

For instance, I’m fairly certain that Bevin didn’t mean to cause the university to go on probation when he reorganized the UofL Board of Trustees and encouraged President James Ramsey to step down from his post.

That, however, is exactly what happened, according to a Jan. 11 letter from SACSCOC to the university. The accrediting body found the actions on Ramsey and the board of trustees breached the firewall that’s supposed to insulate UofL from politics.

“The institution [UofL] has failed to demonstrate that the board is not controlled by a minority of board members or interests separate from it,” the letter said about the university’s governing board. “The governor’s actions would have concentrated his influence regarding the composition of the board and the appointment of its members, by-passing the protections against such influence addressed in state statutes that provide for a separation of powers and a schedule of replacement of board members that ensure staggered appointments.

“As such, the governor’s actions demonstrate the board is functioning with considerable external control and influence and places in jeopardy board capacity to be ultimately responsible for providing a sound education program.”

About the board dismissal, the letter adds: “The governor dismissed board members without adequate due process in accordance with existing Kentucky statues and polices. Board reorganization efforts appear to have been used to circumvent the use of an adequate and fair process for the dismissal of board members.”

Now, the university finds itself on probation for 12 months, based on factors beyond its control.

Loss of accreditation, as “The Courier-Journal” reports, could “reduce the value of UofL degrees, eliminate federal financial aid for students and remove UofL’s membership from the NCAA.”

My personal nervousness on this situation derives from the fact my wife Beth’s student loan debt from attending the university’s School of Medicine will approach $200,000 before she graduates, not including interest.

If something happens to the school’s accreditation, would Beth be able to move on to the next phase of her career? Would she be able to get a job? Would we be able to earn enough to repay the school debt or would we end up having to declare bankruptcy?

I’m not going to claim that Ramsey’s UofL administration was above reproach, because it wasn’t, but at least the school maintained its accreditation during his tenure.

First learning of SACS’ decision to put UofL on probation after a Dec. 4 SACSCOC meeting, Bevin tweeted: “U of L’s accreditation is not at risk, nor will it ever be at risk because of any action taken by Gov. Bevin. Anyone who argues otherwise does not have U of L’s best interest at heart,” according to “Courier-Journal” news reports.

The situation may indeed get resolved without negative consequences, as all my friends reassuringly say, but that would probably be due to the intervention of the General Assembly in trying to approve corrective measures .

SACSCOC officials have opined in news reports that they’re looking favorably upon the legislation, but ultimately the final call on accreditation does not belong to Bevin.

It almost makes me wish Ramsey was still the UofL president, so we wouldn’t have to face this uncertainty.

 

Beth and I have invested a considerable amount of money in her education and our related expenses to come here. Had we known her school’s accreditation was going to be in jeopardy, we might not have moved to Kentucky at all, and despite my whole family being here, it might make me think twice about staying, too.