This from C-J:
CPE is a mess; scrap it
Gov. Steve Beshear was right to ask for an attorney general's opinion on the legality of the process through which Brad Cowgill became president of Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education. He asked CPE members not to sign a contract with Mr. Cowgill under these circumstances -- a reasonable request.
It makes sense for the Governor to go even further.
CPE is the one failed part of Paul Patton's higher education reform, as outlined in House Bill 1. It is utterly useless in terms of setting priorities for state spending on public colleges and universities, because the General Assembly ignores its recommendations whenever it chooses.
The council also fails to fully coordinate public campus programs, which is obvious in the fact that community college students so often have trouble transferring credits to four-year institutions.
The council also has failed to contain the ambition of some comprehensive (read, "regional") universities to become full-blown doctoral degree-granting campuses -- a role that's supposed to be played by the state's two major research institutions, the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville, in order to avoid expensive duplication.
The council has been a shell since its first president, Gordon Davies, was, in effect, fired.
Whatever legal conclusion Attorney General Jack Conway reaches, there's no question about the intent of House Bill 1. It called for a national search to find an experienced educator who could lead the state system. Instead, current members decided to appoint a lawyer with minimal full-time experience in higher education, and they looked no further than Frankfort to find him. A council full of Ernie Fletcher appointees ignored the law and appointed the former Republican governor's onetime budget director.
Mr. Cowgill is a lawyer and former bureaucrat, articulate and quite capable. His ideas for changing the system through which public campuses are funded are sound. The problem is, he's not an experienced academic administrator. For a salary like $275,000 per year, his background should fit the legal job description.
Mr. Cowgill could prove that he understands the dynamics of success in such a position by stepping aside voluntarily. The CPE members who chose not to honor the law's clear intent could give up their positions, too. But neither of those things will happen. In government these days, nobody sacrifices in order to "do the right thing."
Mr. Beshear clearly will change the makeup of this council as his opportunities to make appointments arise, but that will involve destructive delay.
The Governor should, instead, put the CPE operation into receivership in the Education Cabinet, until a way forward can be sorted out. Gubernatorial intervention -- as heavy-handed as that might seem -- is preferable to weak-kneed acceptance of a bad situation. Mr. Beshear can re-invent the council by executive order.
An effort to restore some power to the governor's office is overdue. Since the time of John Y. Brown Jr., that office has been undermined, and by more than just the emergence of a strong, independent legislature. Annual sessions further diminished an office long weakened by the state constitution's provision for mere-majority overrides of gubernatorial vetoes. Then came the era of inflexibly partisan Frankfort politics, which further constrains a governor whose party does not control both chambers of the General Assembly.
If nothing else, Mr. Beshear must respond to the CPE's conduct forcefully so that every board and commission and all 30,000-plus state workers know he won't let them ignore his requests to act according to the law's intent.