Big  Changes Coming For University of Louisville Board of Trustees.

Joe Gerth is reporting several block-buster announcements in today’s  on-line Courier-Journal regarding the UofL Board of Trustees.

  1. Kentucky Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Jack Conway has apparently announced the opinion of his office that Governor Beshear “broke the law” in not re-appointing an African- American to the UofL Board of Trustees.
  2. Newly appointed Trustee Paul Diaz counts as a “minority,” but that the Board is still unbalanced. The proper standard is not yet announced.
  3. Established Board member Steve Wilson has resigned.
  4. Governor Beshear says he will appoint an African-American to replace Mr. Wilson.

As of this writing, this is still breaking news. I found no confirmation of any of this on the Attorney General’s or Governor’s official websites and I have no independent verification of any of the reported facts.   Indeed, specifics are still changing as of late this afternoon as to what would or should be considered a proper balance of race on the UofL Board – specifically whether a statewide or local standard should be considered.  Nonetheless, the situation presenting itself is one of the two possible solutions to a difficult solution that I proposed earlier this month.

[Addendum 9-30-2015: Several documents and responses became available confirming the above. Links to these are at the end of this article. Based on the relevant statutes, I come to different conclusions than the Attorney General and Governor and will discuss these further in future post.]

There will be much more said about this in coming days by many, but I offer the following comments at this time.

List of potential candidates is now wide open.
As I concluded from a close reading of the two statutes controlling the Board Nominating Committee and the specific make-up of UofL’s Board, the fact that a current Board member has resigned means that the Governor is no longer constrained to the short list presented to him by the Postsecondary Nominating Committee.  That is in my opinion a good thing because the Governor is now able to reach beyond the group of UofL insiders, including those with strong sports connections and loyalties, or those who have  already expressed their personal gratitude to UofL President James Ramsey.  The Governor need not necessarily reappoint any previous African-American Trustee or any other person on the earlier list of recommended candidates.  After all, that list itself was fatally flawed from the start by failing to follow existing law!

The wrong trustee resigned.
This is not the first time Trustee Steve Wilson has resigned.  He did so once before – seemingly in protest– on the grounds that he was not given the information necessary to do his job, and that insufficient opportunities for Board discussion were provided. The Governor did not accept that earlier resignation.  Mr. Wilson is the Trustee who was quoted as saying that, “Sometimes loyalty means asking questions.”  It troubles me that this conscientious, effective, and respectful trustee is the one taking the hit for the team. Not a good sign!

If what we have is wrong, what is right?
Concluding that the current makeup of the Board is wrong does not hand us an automatic answer as to what is right.  The Kentucky statute only requires that the composition of the UofL Board of trustees represent the state-wide proportion of racial minorities. It does not require or even allow that a different local urban or rural standard be applied. If urban areas with higher numbers of individuals of racial minorities are allowed greater-than state-wide representation, does it follow that state colleges in non-urban areas with few minorities need not have any minority representation?  If the current UofL Board has one designated African-American and one designated Hispanic, can it really be said that it is out of balance with statewide racial minority representation?  By my count it is not.  But even if the current Board is legal, is it right?  A reasonable person– and I include myself as one– can look at the current composition of the UofL Board of Trustees and conclude that something is wrong.  In fact, several things are demonstrably wrong.  [I suggest that composition of the rest of the governing boards of the UofL corporate empire needs to be looked at through the same lens.]

I know it when I see it.
The statutes do not define “minority” nor indicate how many different minorities need to be “in balance” at the same time.  The U.S. census data that specifies the current but changing benchmark of racial representation required for the Board makes it clear that we as individuals can be unsure, uncomfortable, or unwilling to be characterized by our ethnic background or the color of our skin.  I know I am.  Consider all the overlapping self-reported categories in Kentucky. Is “Hispanic” really a racial minority if such an individual can be of any race?  How dark or light does my skin have to be, or how many ancestors of a designated race do I need to be considered white or black or yellow or red or anything in-between?  We have been down those sometimes legally-defined roads before and not always to a good end.  As a physician, if I were to close my eyes, I could not tell my black patients from my white ones, or for that matter patients of any hue. However our society collectively makes those distinctions very well indeed, and justice and equity have been ill-served.

Therefore, as much as I do not like the principle of dividing and counting people up by color or ethnic heritage, I do not know how to better insure that the assemblages of people we choose (or are chosen for us) to lead in our public affairs truly represent the experience and wisdom of all of us. I don’t know how many African-Americans need to be on the UofL Board to make it right, but it needs to be more than we have now.  One more at this time is a first step in the right direction and I commend the Governor should he take it.

Peter Hasselbacher

Relevant documents and responses to AG Opinion:
Opinion of Office of Attorney General 9-29-2015. (PDF)
Letter from Mr. Steve Wilson, 9-29-2015.  (PDF)
Statement by Governor Beshear, 9-29-2015. (PDF)
Statement by W. Louisville Minister’s Coalition, 9-29-2015. (PDF)