It Is Premature To Release University of Louisville From Its Probation

[The following is the text in full of an open letter that I sent to the relevant officers of the of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Colleges (SACS-COC), the regional accrediting body that placed the University of Louisville on probation for issues of political interference and other reasons.  I raise the same concerns that I did in a recent opinion piece in the Courier-Journal.]

Dr. Belle S. Wheelan, Ph.D.
President Accrediting Commission
Dr. Patricia L. Donat, Ph.D.
Commission Vice President

Dear Drs. Wheelan and Donat.

At the risk of being characterized as a faculty crank, I write again to urge caution in releasing the University of Louisville from its probationary status. The University itself is advising the public of imminent meetings with you in advance of your own internal Board meeting and in anticipation of relief from probation. In my opinion, granting such relief under the current conditions is to engrave in stone the unique political invasion of one of Kentucky’s flagship universities, and to give your permission for Gov. Matthew Bevin’s illegitimately handpicked Board of Trustees to continue to ignore the shared governance promised by longstanding formal University of Louisville’s Redbook policy.

There is no question that Gov. Bevin ignored Kentucky statutory requirements for nominating and choosing not only the University of Louisville’s Board of Trustees, but those of our other state universities. The nominally independent Postsecondary Education Nominating Committee admitted giving him the candidates the Governor requested. These are not bad people, but a farce was made of the process. Gov. Bevin chose members of his fundamentalist church and those who agreed with his far-right anti-abortion and business agendas. A few of his appointments during this process had to resign shortly afterwards over issues related to their appropriateness to serve, or in my opinion, conflict of interests. When confronted with the fact that the appointments were made contrary to state law, Gov. Bevin simply had a rubber-stamp legislature make it nominally legal. It appears this was enough for SACS-COC to drop its concern that undue political influence was occurring. I would argue, that what happened here in Louisville was an example of political interference in its most extreme manifestation. The Governor’s ongoing actions in interfering with clinical activities at the University of Louisville hospital, and an unwillingness to allow his officers to testify under oath in that regard are in my opinion another example of political bullying. I can elaborate if you wish.

Your concerns about an overabundance of interim leadership at the University reinforced your application of probation. This additional element has led to what some believe to be an overly hasty search for a new University President. Hasty or not, a Board which many in the community consider to be acting in continuing undue secrecy is objectively ignoring the formal University policy requirement for defined faculty participation in a search for a new President. This policy is written in the University Redbook which specifies that: “the Board shall consult with a faculty committee to be composed of one representative elected for that specific purpose from each of the [13] units listed in section 3.1.1 .” There is no requirement that the search be conducted secretly. No such election has been made, or for that matter, allowed. In response to faculty outcry, the Board plans to stage a limited number of “listening” sessions before a subset of Board members. None of these will be held before the cutoff date this week for potential applicants. The Board itself characterizes its search as a “closed” one. Louisville media have accurately reported ongoing faculty protests. The Board has dug in its heels and shows no sign of relenting.

Louisville’s Courier-Journal recently published my opinion piece related to this closed search.  In it I conclude, “The Board of Trustees of the University of Louisville is on the wrong path here. Autocracy is as inappropriate a management style for a Board as it is for a President [or a Governor]. The Board should conduct an open and therefore an accountable search for our new President.”

I urge your organization not to legitimize what is happening at the University of Louisville.

Peter Hasselbacher, MD
Emeritus Professor of Medicine
November 29, 2017

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