Who Should Control the Curriculums at Kentucky Universities?

Lest anyone doubt Gov. Bevin’s inclination, indeed intention to intervene in the academic decisions of Kentucky’s state universities, I draw your attention to his recent speech to the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (which sets Kentucky’s higher education policy and which he largely appoints) in which he “suggests” to our university Boards and administrations that they should shed whole academic programs that do not contribute to employment and economic development as he envisions it. This should not come as a surprise to anyone, because he made the same statement early in his term shortly after he celebrated his intention to open the separation of church and state more widely. Others have already noted how a broad-based general education has not done badly for the Governor personally. I will add that the Governor’s initial public spokesperson in Kentucky did not do very badly with her history major from a Kentucky college. She moved from working for a governor to working for the president of the United States.

It is my impression that a “suggestion” from Gov. Bevin forebodes a more aggressive intervention on his part. I point to the “pressure” brought to the University of Kentucky to fire a professor who was critical of one of the Governor’s healthcare policies, and his “pressure” brought on the University of Louisville Hospital and KentuckyOne Health to sever and not renew its transfer agreement to accept the rare patient from Planned Parenthood or other abortion provides who has a serious complication from surgery. (This latter matter is now in Federal Court.)

Although the Governor’s office denies any intervention on his part, in my opinion, and that of the parties being leaned on, the pressure could only have come from the Governor himself directly or indirectly through proxies. The Governor has not been shy about stating his intention to achieve his economic and religious agendas. Why should be not believe him? In my opinion, such tactics do not deserve the banal description of “pressure,” but meet the definition of bullying. We all know what happens when a bully is not confronted – the result is more of the same. University accreditors at SACS, are you watching? Kentucky elected officials and our general public, are you?  Our Universities cannot fight this battle by themselves.

Peter Hasselbacher, MD
Emeritus Professor of Medicine, UofL
September 14, 2017

Who Will Defend Kentucky’s Academic Institutions Against Political Capture?

[Below is the full text of my shortened Op-Ed piece published on-line by the Courier Journal on Aug 8, and in the print edition of Aug 9.  The complaint by Dr. Mullins and links to background and documentation are also available.]

I submit this as an open letter to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS) and to the Louisville community. On August 2, the Courier-Journal reported extensively on a lawsuit brought against senior members of the University of Kentucky’s administration and the administration of Governor Matthew Bevin by Dr. Raynor Mullins, a distinguished senior member of the faculty of the School of Dentistry at UK. The lawsuit alleges that Dr. Mullins was fired from his non-tenured faculty position in retaliation for comments that were critical of Gov. Bevin’s plans to reshape Kentucky Medicaid– a plan intended to considerably reduce the number of Medicaid beneficiaries and cut back on benefits, including dental services. The lawsuit names as defendants “Mark Birdwhistell, UK’s Vice President of Administration for UK HealthCare; Dr. Stephanos Kyrkanides, Dean of the UK College of Dentistry; and ‘John Doe,’ described as an official in the Bevin administration.” (Dr. Birdwhistell is a major architect of Gov. Benin’s healthcare plan.) The story was picked up by the Associated Press and is appearing across the country. What is happening in Lexington is relevant to the accreditation status of the University of Louisville and the reputation of our Commonwealth. Continue reading “Who Will Defend Kentucky’s Academic Institutions Against Political Capture?”

Gov. Bevin Reappoints His Original Ten-Person Board of Trustees for UofL

Breaking Information:

The Governor’s office released today Governor Bevin’s list of 10 appointments to a replacement Board of Trustees for the University of Louisville.  With a single exception, all 10 are the same as the Board he appointed earlier in 2016.

Newly appointed Trustees:
J. David Grissom, of Louisville, until Jan. 13, 2023.
John H. Schnatter, of Louisville, until Jan. 13, 2022.
Sandra Frazier, of Louisville, until Jan. 13, 2021.
Nitin Sahney, of Prospect, until Jan. 13, 2021.
Bonita K. Black, of Crestwood, until Jan. 13, 2020.
Brian A. Cromer, of Louisville, until Jan. 13, 2020.
Ulysses Lee Bridgeman, Jr., of Louisville, until Jan. 13, 2019.
Ronald L. Wright, MD, of Prospect, until Jan. 13, 2019.
James M. Rogers, of Prospect, until Jan. 13, 2018.
Diane B. Medley, of Ekron, until Jan. 13, 2018.

The exceptions are that James Rodgers is appointed instead of Dale Boden.    In the first set, Douglas Cobb was appointed, but resigned shortly afterwards to be replaced by Brian Cromer who is on the list above.

I have commented on all of these at length, including an analysis of the application documents used for the first appointment process.  It is difficult for me to believe that the Nominating Committee that met last week, with 3 of its 7 members on that day new to the committee, had any meaningful independent influence on this intensely political appointment process.  Surely this was a done-deal from the start.

Peter Hasselbacher, MD
President, KHPI.
Emeritus Professor of Medicine, UofL
3:10 pm, Jan 17,  2017

Nomination Process for New UofL Board of Trustees Underway

Major twist in the story line!

postsecondary-educ-nominating-1The Governor’s Postsecondary Education Nominating Committee is presently in Executive Session in Frankfort selecting candidates to present to the governor for appointment to the University of Louisville Board of Trustees as described by new legislation passed by the Kentucky Legislature earlier this week.  Thirty names will be presented to  Gov. Bevin from which he is entitled to select 10, subject to approval by the Kentucky Senate.  This is a brand new process that is different from the previously uniform statutory requirement for Board appointment at Kentucky’s other major state universities.  I was told that the names of these candidates will not be released to those of us waiting in the hall when the Committee leaves its executive session. I suspect that the names that have been selected will come from the same binders used to appoint the first 10-person Board of Trustees last Spring. It remains to be seen to what extent the statutory protocols or actions of the nominating committee are different in any other way from the tightly controlled political processes used in the past by this governor or others. For example, it is not at all obvious that Governor Bevin elicited recommendations for his new Nominating Committee as required by statute.

What is newsworthy at the moment is the major change the Governor has made in the composition of his Nominating Committee. Announced just today is the replacement of three Committee members by new ones who are now in their first meeting ever.  To inspection, the new appointments to the Nominating Committee go a long way towards repairing a committee which was by statute illegally constituted by almost every parameter. There are now three women and two racial minorities on the 7-member Committee.  At least one of these is a Democrat, but the political party affiliation of all the rest is not yet known to me.

Obviously the Governor has been sensitive to criticism by me and others that his own committee was more “illegally” constituted than the UofL Board he sought to replace for the same reason.  That contradictory logic belied any other motives that might have been or still are operational.  Nonetheless, what is going on now represents a major deviation from past practices, and the product of the committee meeting remains to be analyzed.

This article has been amended.

Peter Hasselbacher, MD
Emeritus Professor of Medicine, UofL
January 13, 2017.  12:55 pm

postsecondary-educ-nominating-2

State Auditor’s Report On Governance of UofL and Its Foundation Relationship Highly Critical.

New University and Foundation leadership a breath of fresh air.

I went to Frankfort today for an early look aaudit-pix-12-14-16t the long-awaited result of Kentucky’s Auditor of Public Accounts of the relationship between the University of Louisville and its investment arm, the University of Louisville Foundation.  Alas, even before the press conference began, most of the major news outlets in Louisville had already published in-depth reports of the Auditor’s findings.  [Their reporters had access to an embargoed early release of the full report. My request for that opportunity went unanswered.]  My observations of those who spoke or asked questions at the session interpreted the report as highly critical of how the University and Foundation interacted under the administration of Former President James Ramsey– except for Dr. Ramsey’s attorney who termed the report a disservice to the community.  I will not duplicate the reports of  Chris Otts of WDRB, Tom Loftus of the Courier Journal, Kate Howard of the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, Joe Sonka of Insider Louisville, Kyeland Jackson of the Louisville Cardinal,  or whatever other entity picks up this important story; but I encourage my readers to read some of these reports yourselves.  You can read a summary handed out at the session here, and a rebuttal offered by Dr. Ramsey’s attorney, Steve Pence.  The full report is available on the Auditor’s website.  It contains  responses by current leadership of the University and Foundation, a response by Former President Ramsey, and a rebuttal to that response by the Auditor’s office.  A video of the conference is also available. I have just begun to analyze the full report myself. At least read its Executive Summary, duplicated here, which contains specific recommendations. The summaries look rather damming to me, as was in my opinion the whole presentation by Auditor Mike Harmon. Continue reading “State Auditor’s Report On Governance of UofL and Its Foundation Relationship Highly Critical.”

Drop In Value of UofL Endowment Confirmed.

Endowment growth stalling compared to other institutions.

Numerous earlier reports by Mr. Chris Otts of WDRB brought to the attention of the public information about financial dealings of enough concern that at least two major donors to the University of Louisville withdraw their support, triggering in large measure an intervention by the University of Board of Trustees to take a more controlling role in the University of Louisville Foundation and a full-scale fiduciary audit. This latter offers the potential to clear the air or to lead to even more troublesome revelations. Mr. Otts’s latest report  deals with unauthorized spending of the University’s endowment by the Foundation in support of its commercial research, real estate, and other agendas both known and unknown. The result has been a substantial fall in the value of the endowment as its principal is consumed.

Sparked by Mr. Otts’s use of information provided to him by the University as reported to the American Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO); and by comments made by Trustees Greenberg and Benz at last week’s meeting of UofL Trustees raising serious concerns about the endowment; I went to NACUBO’s website myself.  Summary files for public use are available including the market values of the endowments of some 850 of the most important Colleges and Universities in the US and Canada from 1990 to 2015.  I abstracted these and plotted the market value of UofL’s endowment along with its rank among other institutions in this regard. Spending information or investment yields for individual institutions are not made available to the public, although summary statistics on aggregates in broad categories are available. A static image is presented below, and an interactive version revealing the underlying data is available.

In summary, the amount of our endowment rose progressively from 1990 until around 2007 after which much volatility occurred to the point that the market value of the endowment in 2016 is indeed less than it was 10 years ago in 2006!  UofL appears to be eating its nest egg, and compared to other institutions of higher education, is losing ground in endowment growth.

uofl-endowment-1900-2016
Continue reading “Drop In Value of UofL Endowment Confirmed.”

Special Meeting of UofL Foundation Canceled at Last Minute.

University of Louisville Foundation goes rogue.

foundation-bld-9-2016An unexpected special meeting of the 5-member Executive Committee of the University of Louisville Foundation that was to be held at 5 PM today (Labor Day) was canceled at the last minute. I and several members of the traditional print and broadcast media arrived to cover the open session only to find we were the only ones there! It was anticipated that the meeting would initiate the hiring of an external firm to perform the forensic audit demanded by the James Graham Brown Foundation, and execute the separation of Foundation President James Ramsey and Kathleen Smith from the Foundation. It was reported by Andrew Wolfson on the Courier-Journal’s website that the cancellation was consequent to a letter by University of Louisville Board of Trustee Chairman Larry Benz. However, it was later reported by Chris Otts of WDRB, that today Acting University Chairman Neville Pinto had also sent an email to Foundation Chair Robert Hughes and other Board members expressing polite but strongly worded objections to the Foundation’s plans. Unbelievably, neither President Pinto nor Chairman Benz, both of whom are on the Foundation Board, had been consulted about the meeting nor informed about what was to be discussed or enacted. Copies of the emails from Chairman Benz and President Pinto to Chairman Hughes are attached. Continue reading “Special Meeting of UofL Foundation Canceled at Last Minute.”

Attorney General Finds University of Louisville Violated Open Records Law In NCAA Basketball Scandal.

Last February, I submitted an open records request to the University of Louisville for documents and information used by then-President James Ramsey underlying his decision to withdraw from postseason basketball play in 2016.  [I was reacting to media reports and a formal statement by UofL that University President Ramsey had received updates and information upon which he acted.  I asked for that information.]   My request was summarily dismissed and I filed an appeal with the Attorney General of Kentucky.  After much back and forth between that office and the University, it was determined that the University had indeed violated the requirements of Kentucky’s Open Records Act.  Even before I was able to read the opinion, it was being published by traditional media including the Courier-Journal, and WDRB. Here is the best summary to date. Here is another.  A shorter version from the Associated Press appeared in dozens of newspapers nationally before the end of day yesterday.  Because of the presumed general public interest in this matter, I believe it is appropriate to explain my motivation and make to make public the correspondence and documents that led up to the AG’s decision.

The decision may have been correct.
Let me say at the outset, I have no opinion about whether the decision to withdraw was appropriate or not.  It may well have been the best path forward.  I did not have any interest in learning the names of any of the students involved nor would I have made their names public. [Similarly I am not interested in any salacious details.]  I do however have an interest in how the University does its business.  I have written often over the last few years about the lack of appropriate transparency and accountability within the administration of Dr. Ramsey.  I have argued that many of the University’s problems, and certainly those of its its public relations image stem from its penchant for non-disclosure or secrecy.  Discussions with traditional journalists and my own experience led me to believe that the University is often a reluctant participant in the Open Meeting or Open Records requirements. Continue reading “Attorney General Finds University of Louisville Violated Open Records Law In NCAA Basketball Scandal.”

Governor Bevin Continues To Block UofL Board of Trustees.

Recommendations for a path forward.empty-presidential--chair

In an exercise of stunning hypocrisy, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin warned the remaining former UofL Board of Trustees members that should they meet against his advice, that anything they do will be invalid because they are illegally composed in terms of race, gender, and political party registration.  He obviously disagrees with the decision of Circuit Court Judge Philip Shepherd who granted a temporary injunction against the dissolution of the former UofL Board which Bevin replaced with 10 obviously hand-picked new appointees. The Governor has a right to disagree and the ability to appeal the judicial decision in an unthreatening prescribed manner. However, essentially giving Bevin or Ramsey-friendly former trustees an excuse not to show up is a disturbing way to proceed and does not inspire confidence that the Governor is not being driven by the political motivation he ascribes to others.  [Some of the former board were apparently listening. See below for today’s new developments.]

Show me a legally empaneled Board –any Board.
There is little doubt that the several statutes defining a required composition of the controlling boards of the state’s various academic entities has been much ignored for some time and by several governors.  I shared my opinion earlier that the entire system of University Board appointments is irretrievably broken and needs to be replaced in its entirety. If the governor is serious about his concerns, he needs to examine the current composition of all the relevant Boards, and to deem those out of compliance illegally constituted as well.  Governor, I believe you have been badly advised.  By your own words and logic, your own Governor’s Postgraduate Nominating Committee that you recently largely reconstituted, is on its very face more illegally constituted that of the UofL Board you compel to sit on their hands as their University burns. By your own words and logic, any of your Nominating Committee’s actions are equally illegal and invalid– including the nomination of the ten UofL trustees you recently attempted to seat.  The advice you have been given allows a reasonable person to perceive your motives to be more politically driven than in the name of efficiency, and makes your pronouncements sound less than gubernatorial. Let me explain. Continue reading “Governor Bevin Continues To Block UofL Board of Trustees.”

UofL’s Prolonged Agony is Over – Not!

r&bI missed one of the three initial meetings these last two weeks of the newly appointed and possibly legal University of Louisville Board of Trustees, showed up for one that had been abruptly cancelled, and could not wait out some six hours of executive session of the last one to learn first-hand its decision about Dr. James Ramsey’s tenure as President of the University. No matter.  The run-up and results have been dispassionately reported by others including Chris Otts of WDRB, Andrew Wolfson of the Courier-Journal, Joe Sonka of Insider Louisville, Kate Howard of the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, Kyeland Jackson of the Louisville Cardinal, and others who have shown the bright light of responsible journalism on things our University can be proud of – but also on the shameful if not illegal goings on that would otherwise have remained in shadow.  I will not summarize all that has occurred.  I encourage my readers to review their previous work and my own prior reporting of the self-serving machinations that have brought our local University to its knees.

[Addendum:  As I was finishing these words, Frankfort Circuit Court Judge Philip Shepherd granted Attorney General Andy Beshear’s request for a temporary injunction, thus putting the dismissal of the former Board on hold and rendering the new Bevin-appointed Board invalid. The injunction allows the agreement on Ramsey’s resignation, the granting of degrees to recent graduates, and authorizing the appointment of Professor Neville Pinto as Interim Provost to stand. The order assumes that collusion between Ramsey and Governor Bevin occurred before the dismissal of the previous Board. More about this at a later time. I will finish this article as I originally intended.]

Attendant troubles at the Medical Center.
It is no secret that in my opinion, the house that Ramsey, Dunn, and their administrations built is collapsing – as much from leadership style as external challenges.  Just today we learn that Medicare has given our University Hospital a single star in its ranking of acute-care hospitals for overall quality.  It joins only 129 of 3617 hospitals nationally at the bottom of the list.  Yes, University Hospital along with others serves a large proportion of patients facing socio-economic disadvantage, but a few years ago we would have received three or even four stars or the equivalent. This did not have to happen. We can recover, but it will likely take as many years to do so as it did to collapse. The rising opinion of many at the University is that we must unwind our relationship with KentuckyOne and Catholic Health Initiatives whose bond-rating has just taken another hit and is facing troubles of its own nationally and in Kentucky. Because University Hospital is supporting Jewish Hospital financially, I doubt the KentuckyOne will easily consent to dissolution. I am rereading the Joint Operating Agreements with attention to conditions of termination.  It will be neither easy or inexpensive to do. Substantial penalties are built in should the University unilaterally withdraw.  In addition, I doubt that even UofL or the Commonwealth know how much of CHI’s colossal debt they have agreed to be responsible for. Continue reading “UofL’s Prolonged Agony is Over – Not!”