A special Faculty Senate meeting was held June 29 in Cochran Auditorium, with vice chair Enid Trucios-Haynes presiding. The meeting was called to discuss Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin’s recently issued Executive Orders abolishing UofL’s board of trustees and naming of new board members, as well as UofL President James Ramsey’s letter of resignation.

Both President Ramsey and Interim Provost Neville Pinto were in attendance at the meeting, where faculty members were asked to discuss their concerns related to the legal uncertainty of the Governor’s actions and the implications these latest actions may have on the university, its budget and its accreditation status.

One faculty senator believes Governor Bevin’s board makeup of 10 trustees – versus the 17 previous trustees – “demotes us,” as it is a lower number than other university boards.

“There are multiple layers of legal problems involved with the Governor’s actions,” another senator noted. “Unless Kentucky is 70 percent men, then the board is not constituted properly.”

Kurt Metzmeier, a law library faculty member, said there is a bit of history in Kentucky with these types of Governor decisions, including in 1992 at the University of Kentucky, and the subsequent provision added in 1997 to insulate universities from political influence.

“The 1997 provision states that the board of trustee members had to be removed for cause, such as malfeasance or neglect. What troubles me is that this scenario can be replicated. Maybe not at UofL, but governors can continue to do this through executive orders,” he said.

President Ramsey was in attendance at the special meeting and assured the Senate that UofL’s leadership has been very engaged in the transition process.

“There are distractions. We are trying to do the best we can to stay focused on our mission and our students, and on spending time on our initiatives to grow the university,” he said.

He also said these actions are not the result of an agreement between himself and the Governor.

Senators expressed grievances over the Governor’s complete abolishment of the board and why there was no pushback from university leaders when the board was illegally constituted in March. Interim Provost Neville Pinto said it was important to get past the “logjam.”

“In the spring, the business of the university was not going forward. The governor’s actions were to ensure we could operate,” he said. “My concern is to be operational for our students.”

Senators also spent much of the two hours debating how Governor Bevin’s newly-appointed board will, if at all, affect academic freedom and if the board appointees would have “undue political influence.” Much of this concern comes from the board’s control over approving additions/omissions/changes to the Redbook.

A motion was made to draft a statement to the Governor on behalf of the Faculty Senate to express concern about the potential of undue political influence.

“What we have is our voice. This is of academic interest, not business interest. We need this resolved now. This is the ethically correct thing to do,” said a senator.

“We’re in a situation where we could be quiet, but then we’ve given up the only thing we’ve ever had, which is our voice,” another senator added. “This is as principled an issue as I’ve seen here. If we are quiet, we’re putting down a responsibility we have to educate the public about what academic freedom is.”

“I don’t think I could look my students in the eyes if I stayed silent,” said a faculty guest in attendance.

Senators agreed that the Executive Committee draft a statement for discussion at the regular July 6 meeting, which was held in Chao Auditorium.

July 6 meeting

Dr. Pamela Feldhoff presided over the July 6 meeting, which included a lengthy discussion over the language included in the drafted statement brought forth by the Executive Committee.

The purpose of the statement (below) is to directly address Governor Matt Bevin’s recent actions to completely abolish the board of trustees and replace it with 10 new appointees.

The statement purposefully expresses concerns over the Governor’s executive order and also addresses academic freedom and SACS accreditation concerns. A lengthy discussion was held on the semantics of the statement, as well as its distribution plan.

Of particular debate was how to add a phrase that referenced a board of 17 appointees, versus Governor Bevin’s 10 appointed trustees. Once the language was agreed upon, all but one (who abstained) present senator voted in favor of adopting the statement.

Dr. Feldhoff plans to meet with UofL General Counsel Leslie Strohm for advice on how to properly/legally distribute the statement, though she acknowledged that the statement is now a public document.

The statement is below:

We, the Faculty Senate at the University of Louisville, want to express our concern over Governor Matt Bevin’s recent Executive Orders regarding the University’s Board of Trustees. We believe that these actions compromise the Board of Trustees’ independence and may affect the institutional idea of democratically-shared governance at the University of Louisville.

We uphold the principles of KRS 164.821 and its 1992 and 1997 amendments, which specify a separate nominating board, the removal of board members only for cause following specified procedures, a membership of seventeen appointees reflecting constituencies consistent with the state population (racial minority and political affiliation), and three members representing university’s constituent groups. We are wary of the possible unanticipated consequences for future boards at the University of Louisville and other universities within the state, potentially resulting in regular reorganizations when any impasse arises. In short, we uphold the fundamental principle of our Board as free from outside influence.

We invoke the principles codified in the University’s governing documents, principles which specify the shared governance of student, staff, and faculty representatives. To the extent that such principles are threatened by the establishment of the recent board, we fear losing top-tier faculty, and along with them the quality student education which accompanies an environment of academic freedom. University accreditation approaches this year and we are mindful of the demand that university boards be independent. Faculty members are genuinely concerned that this rushed solution may compromise the independence of the University of Louisville and, as a result, may damage the long-term interests of the university.

As we continue to serve our campus and community, we look forward to a strong working relationship with our board. For the sake of all concerned, we hope for quick resolution of the outstanding legal issues, particularly regarding which board is authorized to act on behalf of the University of Louisville.

Other business

Other business from the July 6 meeting included:

Report: Interim Provost Neville Pinto provided updates on a variety of issues, including fall enrollment. He said we are approaching enrollment in a “slightly different way” with a team that is working on projecting numbers and figuring those projections into our budget.

Enrollment for Fall 2015 was 21,242 students. The goal for Fall 2016 is 21,672 (which means an additional $4 million in revenue). We are on track to have 21,448 students for the fall semester.

“We are doing extremely well with our freshmen class, with a projected 200 additional freshmen students. This demonstrates that despite some turmoil, there is a strong demand for our programs,” Provost Pinto said.

Last year, 2,708 freshmen enrolled for the fall semester. This year’s projected number is 2,925 freshmen.

The quality of these students is also better, Provost Pinto said. The average high school GPA is 3.68, while the average ACT score is 25.37.

“These are numbers we should be proud of,” he said.

Other news from the Provost’s office include the naming of a new Title IX Coordinator, Brian Bigelow; an interim ombudsman, Dr. Bob Staat, while the search begins for a new permanent ombudsman; a new search is underway for a College of Business dean, after interim dean Rohan Christie-David accepted the dean position at the University of Colorado-Denver.

Also, the VP for Enrollment Management and Student Success position will be down to two final candidates this week. Finally, in the fall, a search will be initiated for deans at the Speed School and the Brandeis School of Law.

Action Item: CEHD revised personnel documents were approved on a second reading, while School of Music Bylaws with Mission Statement were introduced for a first reading.

Report: The Faculty Athletic Representative submitted the July report online, which included 2015-16 academic highlights from UofL student athletes such as:

  • Fall of 2015: 371 of 578 student-athletes achieved a 3.0 GPA or higher
  • Spring 2016: 362 of 532 student-athletes achieved a 3.0 GPA or higher

There will be no Faculty Senate meeting in August. The next regular meeting is Sept. 7 from 3-5 p.m. in Chao Auditorium.

Alicia Kelso
Alicia Kelso is the director of social media and digital content. She joined UofL in 2015 as director of communications at the Brandeis School of Law. She also serves as a senior contributor at Forbes.com, writing about the restaurant industry, which she has covered since 2010. Her work has been featured in publications around the world, including NPR, Bloomberg, The Seattle Times, Good Morning America and Franchise Asia Magazine.