LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The University of Louisville board of trustees that was disbanded by Kentucky’s governor and then resurrected by a judge held its first meeting in months on Thursday.
The beleaguered board survived a court challenge earlier in the day that could have halted the meeting, which the board’s chairman called necessary and “very successful.” The finance committee approved a $548 million operating budget, and the trustees had full attendance in their first meeting since March.
“I was having a pretty good summer, and I didn’t really know whether our board was going to meet or not,” chairman Larry Benz said afterward. “I think from our standpoint we’ve always paid close attention to what’s going on at the university here and we have support from every trustee.”
The governing body of one of the state’s largest public universities has been in legal limbo for months amid lawsuits challenging the board’s racial makeup and the governor’s authority to appoint new members.
Republican Gov. Matt Bevin settled a lawsuit in March with the Kentucky Justice Resource Center, a civil rights group in Louisville, by agreeing to delay any significant board action until he appointed two racial minorities as trustees.
Instead, Bevin abolished the entire board, replacing it with a new one he said satisfies state law by having proportional racial and political representation. Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear challenged that the wholesale change as illegal, and Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd temporarily restored the old board.
Benz declined to discuss the legal issues after the meeting, and said trustees would meet again in September.
He also declined to respond to the governor’s assertion Thursday that the old board’s actions were “illegal” and “self-serving.” Bevin told WHAS radio last week that Shepherd “overstepped himself” in blocking his order, and said the board he created should continue to meet.
The operating budget went into effect in July, but lacked board approval before Thursday’s meeting.
The Kentucky Justice Resource Center argued that it would violate the settlement if the old board voted on it. But Judge Shepherd indicated that Bevin, too, may have violated the settlement by abolishing the old board altogether.
Both moves could be seen as a “significant structural change,” and there “is a cloud over the legal authority of both groups,” the judge acknowledged on Thursday. Still, “somebody has got to have decision-making authority for this university while these issues get sorted out.”