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

1 thought on “Who Should Control the Curriculums at Kentucky Universities?”

  1. Let me add to the above that I do not believe the curriculum or role in society of American colleges and universities is immutable. Over the centuries they have changed greatly and will continue to do so. The debate on the role of higher education is a continuous one. There is insufficient space here to outline the many issues and others can do a better job than I. In that spirit and to be provocative, let me ask within the terms of that debate, which University programs should be shed first to save money and create jobs– French language, history, and literature; or semi-professional intercollegiate athletic programs?

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