The Kentucky State University Board of Regents is full of smart, capable people from all spheres of business, education and government. As stories continue to cascade out of the current debacle plaguing Kentucky’s most beleaguered higher education institution, it defies belief that they didn’t understand the financial, legal and educational problems piling up, from sexual harassment lawsuits to an inability to pay the bills. But they said and did nothing.
It’s hard not to sympathize with a recent statement from state Senate budget chairman Chris McDaniel, who questioned the school’s low graduation rates against its costs. “So the financial case to be made is that there should not be a Kentucky State,” he said.
But it would be tragic to lose Kentucky’s oldest historically Black university. That’s why the Board of Regents needs to make amends for past oversights and correct the course for Kentucky State. If they cannot do so in a reasonable amount of time, the entire board should resign.
The board acted shocked when President Christopher Brown resigned amid a flurry of bad financial news. University board members and regents are not supposed to get into micromanagement of universities, but they are supposed to look over the numerous financial documents that are presented to them. Given Kentucky State’s past financial woes, the board should have been extra diligent in understanding the funding picture.
As the new CFO, Greg Rush said at a meeting in July, the Board of Regents had missed a number of budget warning signs in recent years, and that “this has to change and this has to change immediately.”
Two board members did resign shortly before Brown’s resignation, but Paul Harnice later returned, he said, to help right the ship.
According to one recent lawsuit, former staff regent Chandee Felder reached out to other regents about the financial problems that are now approaching $15 million in debt as early as February, 2020. She also publicly criticized the board in the pages of the Frankfort State Journal. For her pains, she was recently fired by interim president Clara Stamps Ross, who took a familiar page from the KSU playbook when she forbade any discussion of it among faculty, according to the State Journal. Secrecy and intimidation have too long been watchwords there.
That secrecy has extended to the KSU Foundation. Even Attorney General Daniel Cameron, no friend to the state’s Open Records Act, has said the foundation recently violated the law when it declined to release records about payments to celebrate an unknown person’s birthday. It’s hard to imagine why a financially-strapped university would tap precious financial aid dollars held by the foundation for birthdays, but it seems like an obvious question that regents should have asked.
Given this and past issues , the board should demand an exhaustive audit of the Foundation to make sure it is working in the best interests of students. Then it should figure out exactly what is going on with back-biting and in-fighting in the top administration.
State lawmakers have bailed out Kentucky State several times before, and many of its problems predate this current board. But the school is running out of free passes. There is no excuse for overlooking the enormous problems there. Regents and trustees generally have a university’s best interests in mind when they are appointed to such bodies. If this current board feels that way about Kentucky State, they need to spend the next few months turning things around so that the public can see the differences. The students — and the state — deserve better.