The University of Louisville’s leadership situation became even more unsettled Wednesday with Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear legally challenging Governor Matt Bevin’s ability to replace the troubled institution’s Board of Trustees.
Beshear, a Democrat, announced he was filing an intervening complaint in Franklin Circuit Court challenging the Republican Bevin’s authority to carry out executive orders issued last week. Bevin on Friday dissolved Louisville’s board and moved to replace it with a new, smaller group of trustees. He also reconstituted the Kentucky Retirement Systems Board of Trustees.
Kentucky’s Constitution and statutes do not give the governor the authority to carry out those actions, Beshear said in an afternoon press conference. The governor is not reorganizing boards to make them more efficient, Beshear said. Instead, Bevin has established a pattern of reorganizing boards just before those boards have to vote on major decisions, said Beshear, who went on to call the pattern an apparent attempt to control those decisions.
Louisville trustees face decisions on how to handle cuts to Kentucky higher education, proposals to raise tuition and the retirement or resignation of President James Ramsey, Beshear said. He criticized the broader implications of the governor dismissing trustees under those conditions.
“Teachers and students rightfully argue that if the governor can take the action he’s taken, he can remove that board any time he disagrees with a decision,” Beshear said. “That not only makes him the de facto president and de facto board of U of L, it makes him the de facto president and board of every public university.”
Bevin’s office issued a statement calling Beshear’s challenge “purely political.”
“Sadly, this courtroom circus act is what the people of Kentucky have come to expect from [Beshear],” said the statement from Communications Director Jessica Ditto. “Governor Bevin’s executive orders stand on solid legal ground.”
The fight over Louisville’s board comes as Ramsey prepares to step down from the institution’s presidency following a series of controversies and scandals. Ramsey offered to resign or retire under the legal formation of a new Board of Trustees, prompting some speculation he would seek a way to keep his job. But he said Tuesday he has no intention to serve beyond the upcoming academic year, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.
Beshear’s office was requesting an immediate hearing and a temporary restraining order preventing Bevin’s overhauls from taking effect. The attorney general’s legal challenge is technically an attempt to join a lawsuit filed by retirement system trustees -- to unite in court disputes over the two board overhauls. A group of Louisville faculty members have also urged trustees of the disbanded board to try to legally block Bevin’s reorganization.
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