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Saving University Independence

Saving University Independence

The below post is excerpted from a longer op-ed by AGB President Rick Legon, published in the Louisville Courier Journal. Read the full op-ed here.

Kentucky’s legislature approved Senate Bill 12, which places the appointment of the men and women who serve on the board of the University of Louisville clearly in the hands of the Gov. Matt Bevin. On Jan. 7 — two days before Bevin signed that bill into law—Sen. Robert Stivers II R-Manchester introduced another piece of legislation that would give the governor even broader power to remove and replace board members of the state’s public universities. Senate Bill 107 caps a one-two combination punch that is problematic.

Codifying overzealous political intrusion into that autonomy runs a high risk. Perhaps the biggest risk is the nature of the governor’s and legislature’s intentions. Governing board members, regardless of how they got to their responsibilities, have a legal obligation to protect their autonomy—not always easy when the governor has asked you to assume the position, and the legislature has vetted your appointment. Fiduciary principles are clear: no member of a board has any specific authority to take an action as an individual member of that board. Serving as a board member is, perhaps, the ultimate team sport — an analogy that should be clear to all members of the University of Louisville board. And, it’s ultimately dependent on board members being aware of and comfortable with their responsibility to ensure their autonomy and independence.

The contents of SB 107, which addresses board governance for all of Kentucky’s public institutions, strikes us as running the risk of intruding into the expectation of board member autonomy and independence. It poses too many opportunities for a Kentucky's governor to remove a board member under the “cover” of a handful of seemingly significant criteria violations. The bill goes too far.

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