Kentucky State is on the verge of selling its leadership, future for $23 million

A bill has advanced through committee in Kentucky’s House of Representatives that, if passed by both chambers will grant Kentucky State University $23 million in fake bailout money and will cost the institution its autonomy and future as a sustainable historically Black institution.

Kentucky Today reports on the details of HB250, which passed unanimously with several startling conditions that will give the state’s higher education oversight office more control of the university’s finances, personnel decisions, and mission.

  • The KSU Board of Regents must approve a new financial policy by May 15 to expedite the restructuring of the university, along with reporting requirements.
  • Regents would have the authority to terminate the employment of any employee, including tenured employees, upon 30-day notice.
  • –CPE must approve any KSU expenditure over $5,000, and the school will provide monthly reports of finances to the Council. That shall continue until the CPE reports to the governor and the Legislative Research Commission that KSU finances are stable.
  • –The Regents shall halt the search for a permanent president until April 15, 2023. When the legislation takes effect, the Regents will conduct a search for a new interim president, with an emphasis on turnaround experience, to replace the current interim president.
  • –Within one year of the bill’s enactment, KSU, in consultation with CPE, will conduct a thorough review of all university departments and academic programs for long-term viability, financial stability, alignment with the university’s mission and other criteria to be determined by the Regents and CPE.
  • –In accordance with accreditation requirements, the Board shall eliminate or make changes to any department or program found to be ineffective, inconsistent with KSU’s mission or otherwise not meeting the review criteria.  KSU faculty and staff employed in those departments will be terminated but shall not be prohibited from applying for other available positions at the university.   
  • –Within three months of the enactment of the legislation, KSU Regents, in consultation with CPE, shall develop a process to review all faculty and staff performance, including a post-tenure review. That performance review must be completed within one year.
  • –By Nov. 1, 2025, the CPE will provide a three-year analysis of KSU, based on the improvement plan. The Council will provide recommendations for a transition plan to a new governance and operations structure, for consideration by the General Assembly.

In short, the commonwealth’s Council on Postsecondary Education could set the university’s financial outlook, could subject the HBCU to discriminatory procurement rules, fire employees at will, disrupt and direct its presidential search, terminate programs, and three years from now change the entire governance structure of the institution itself.

If you put aside the multiple accreditation violations such a law would instantly create, what you have is a plan that could ultimately be watered down but would still marginalize KSU as the state’s only public historically Black institution. If lawmakers took away most of the conditions laid out in this version but left two or three, they would still create insurmoutable damage to Kentucky State’s ability to compete as an institution of higher learning or to attract talent for executive or teaching roles.

To make matters worse, Kentucky State alumni are co-signing this legislative plan to destroy the institution under the guise of helping it. KSU National Alumni Association President Richard Graves laid out a funding proposal that lawmakers are fully willing to meet, with no mention of caution against measures that would limit the university in exchange for the funding.

It is bad enough that alumni and employees have been fooled or bullied into believing a false narrative about KSU budget deficits, but they are publicly endorsing the plan with no attention to detail and no eye for advocacy. Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear has fired a rogue board and today replaced it with new members who will serve as silent gatekeepers for CPE destruction – the same action which prompted a lawsuit from him against former Governor Matt Bevin when he did it in 2016 to the University of Louisville, but without legislative effort to take over the institution.

Beshear said Wednesday that he is not challenging the board’s new membership; his aim, he said, is to block Bevin from wielding “absolute authority” over the school by dissolving the board anytime he disagrees with its actions.

“Such power would threaten the independence and possibly the accreditation of the university,” Beshear said.

Kentucky State advocates and stakeholders have a lot of work ahead of them and a short time to get it all done before they completely lose their school and give other states a blueprint for how to do the same harm to other public Black colleges and universities.

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