Director, Commonwealth Policy Center

The chaos in Frankfort over the University of Louisville has to be one of the more exasperating political spectacles we’ve seen in Kentucky over the last few years. Earlier this year, Governor Matt Bevin dissolved a trustee board at UofL that was mired in controversy and internal strife. University president James Ramsay offered his resignation and received a generous financial agreement to do so. It seemed that a new day was on the horizon for the University, at least until Attorney General Andy Beshear went to war with governor Bevin over the new trustee board. Beshear’s work against change at UofL accomplished a court order against Bevin’s moves, and now the school’s old trustee board is back and the institution is suspended in midair between its frustrated past and uncertain future.

We are used to seeing gridlock, especially when a newly elected executive promises and delivers real change to a politically stagnant system. What is unexpected is the naked political weaponization of Kentucky’s higher education. Could there be any greater proof that our state’s colleges and universities are too soaked in partisanship than the UofL debacle? The purpose of schools like the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky is to train, educate, and equip Kentucky’s students to excel in their communities and their lives. These schools exist to build Kentucky through building the minds and talents of her citizens. Yet what we see today are schools that exist mainly to operate as outposts of political elites. That is why so many college campuses have become battleground sites for culture wars instead of groundbreaking research. It’s why even our primary and secondary schools have embraced social experimentation, with co-ed locker rooms, while lagging far behind most of the country in academic standards.

When the state elected governor Bevin, he promised change. No one on either side of this issue believes that the U of L board as it existed when Bevin was elected was functioning healthily. But the political tug-o-war we see right now is not because Bevin’s actions are wrong but because they disturb a status quo that Frankfort was pleased with. That should disturb every Kentuckian who cares about the quality of the state’s higher education.

It’s high time to end the hyper-politicization of higher education. Let voters decide who is to govern, and let schools educate and train their students. But let’s not turn our institutions of higher learning into nakedly political weapons. This tired back and forth simply embarrasses the Commonwealth, mocks the will of voters, and worst of all, cheats Kentucky’s students.