The curtain is rising on who the newest University of Louisville Board of Trustee members will be. In a barely disguised attempt to legitimize the appointment process, the Governor’s office released a notice of the meeting of his Postsecondary Education Nominating Committee 12 hours before it was scheduled to be held this morning (June 28) in Frankfort. at 10:00 am. That would give the members of the Committee who live at the far ends of the state barely enough time to make it to Frankfort even if they woke up early to drive. Of course, some may participate by video link only. The public and press are likely not to have that privilege.
The concept of legitimacy stifles this process like a wet blanket. After declaring the UofL Board of last spring illegal, and demanding it take no significant action (except to grant degrees and raise tuition), the governor reconstructed the Postsecondary Nominating Committee in ways vastly different than demanded by existing law. What is supposed to be a multiply-diverse committee was turned into a white, male, and Republican entity. I suppose the thinking must have been that two wrongs do make a right. The whole principle of whether the Governor has an absolute right to do what he wants with existing boards and committees regardless of of existing law is currently in the hands of the Kentucky Supreme Court. Governor Bevin appears to have chosen not to take a chance that the outcome of this judicial review will be against his plans– possibly following the strategy that it is better to act wrongly and ask for forgiveness later than to ask for permission and be refused.
We are told that the Nominating Committee will present thirty names to the Governor from which he will choose the favored 10 trustees within a few days. Since the list of the thirty has been generated by the Governor’s Office staff, and since the Nominating Committee itself has been recently handpicked by the Governor’s Office ignoring the prescribed process; there will be little mystery involved about who are among the 30 or the 10. (I have written down the names of at least two.)
What the Board of Trustees should look like.
Current state law– which the Governor has said he has the absolute power to ignore– requires that of the 10, half each will will be male and female, at least one (8% of 10 rounded up) will be of minority race, and more than half will be Democrats to fulfill the requirement that the Board reflect the proportion of registered voters in Kentucky in which Democrats outnumber Republicans.
What the Board will probably look like.
I predict– and will be happy to be wrong– that the board will be in large majority Republicans and/or major political contributors to that party. I am quite sure that several or more new Board appointees will be declared supporters of current UofL President James Ramsey, including perhaps two minority members and members of the recent dismissed Board. I predict that one or more of the new Board members currently appointed by Governor Bevin to the “temporary” 3-person Board will be reappointed to a new 10 person Board. I have a feeling that like the temporary three-person Board, that at least some Board members will also be fellow-members with the Governor (and President Ramsey?) of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville.
[Addendum July 8: Mostly right and partly wrong in my predictions. Political party balance is even. Four minority members out of 10 appointed. All three of the unveiled “temporary” board members appointed. One former UofL Trustee appointed but the majority of new appointees are already much-involved in UofL programs and activities. This is a Ramsey-friendly, business-friendly panel. Four appointees are members of Southeast Christian or affiliated group. Other implications of the appointments and my discussion of the procedures used available here.]
Should these predictions become realized, I fear the University will lose even more of its precious but vanishing academic independence and be increasingly vulnerable to undesirable political and even religious interference. I offer as an example of the latter the combined pressure placed on KentuckyOne Health and the University of Lousiville Hospital by the Governor’s Office and the Catholic Church to cancel their existing contract with Planned Parenthood to be available for transfers in the event of unexpected events following abortion or other medical procedure. In my opinion, the Governor has made it clear that he is comfortable with, if not eager to decrease the separation of church and state.
Here for the foreseeable future?
Given that President Ramsey’s offer of resignation was dependent on the presence of a “legally” constituted Board, and given that the matter of legality is currently under dispute in the highest court in Kentucky, Dr. Ramsey is burdened by no commitment to step down. I predict he will be with us for some time to come– as President of the University, its Foundation, or both. His recent letter to the University community is silent about his personal plans. His comments to the media and public have been inconclusive to say the least.
This is a terrible time for the University of Louisville and its Medical Center to be wallowing leaderless in confusion. In my 32 years at UofL, I have not seen it in worse shape. I fear for the accreditation of both of its campuses and its medical residency training programs. A wounded medical faculty is finally rising up to oppose the management agreement with KentuckyOne that was a major initiative of Dr. Ramsey. What is not in doubt is that the Governor’s proposed composition of a new Board will reveal how much of the machination of the last year was focused on protecting the University of Lousiville and its public, protecting Dr. Ramsey’s tenure and salary as President, or seizing gubernatorial control of the University for whatever reasons. Many vested interests are involved, including individuals other than President Ramsey. Lets hope the right things get rewarded.
Peter Hasselbacher, MD
Emeritus Professor of Medicine
University of Louisville
28 June 2016