Thursday, April 24, 2008

Conway rules out CPE Hiring. Beshear Flexes Muscle: Has not ruled out disbanding the council.

Following the Kentucky's Board of Education's Barbara Erwin debacle, newly minted Governor-elect Steve Beshear asked the KBE to conduct a national search for Education Commissioner. KBE blew him off and hired Kentuckian Jon Draud.

Earlier this month, Beshear warned the Council on Postsecondary Education that they must conduct a national search for its next president. CPE blew him off and hired its interim president Brad Cowgill without a new search. Council chairman John Turner of Lebanon said no search was necessary because "we have the right person in place."

Beshear responded by calling for an Attorney General's Opinion and asked the CPE to refrain from executing a contract with Cowgill. CPE did not finalize the contract.

The Courier-Journal jumped into the fray with an opinion calling CPE "utterly useless" and urging Beshear to shut it down by executive order.

CPE responded by asserting it's power over the universities announcing that schools might be held to 3-7% tuition increases.

The Daily Independent offered their score card which showed Beshear 0 for 2 when it comes to getting a state board to follow his leadership.

The university presidents' gave CPE something less than a ringing endorsement as U of L's James Ramsey said,
"They don't teach any classes, they're not educating students, they don't do any research like that taking place on the campuses," he said. "As long as the universities are focused and committed and moving forward, reform will continue to happen."
Yesterday, Attorney General Jack Conway said CPE erred when it offered the CPE presidency to Brad Cowgill.
"It is clear from the plain language of the statutes establishing the Council that the position of president was intended to be a preeminent position in Kentucky's postsecondary education scheme. KR 164.013 requires the president to possess" significant experience and an established reputation as a professional in the field of postsecondary education."2 The president "shall be the primary advocate for postsecondary education and advisor to the Governor and the General Assembly on matters of postsecondary education in Kentucky."3 Further evidence of the high authority and importance of this position is the fact that the statute requires the president of the Council to be paid more than the base salary of any president of any Kentucky public university.4"
Beshear immediately told CPE to follow the AG's ruling, drop Cowgill, and conduct a new search.

Now CPE's chair, John Turner, member John Hall and former member Walter Baker want a chat with Governor Beshear; while making suggestions of resistance, and a "friendly lawsuit."

Beshear does not rule out disbanding the council.

Beshear, Cowgill and Turner are all scheduled to attend the inauguration of EKU President Doug Whitlock this afternoon.

This from Jack Brammer over at Pol Watchers.

Conway: Higher-education leaders violated law

The Council on Postsecondary Education violated state law when it appointed Lexington lawyer Brad Cowgill as its president without retaining a search firm and conducting a new national search for a permanent president, Attorney General Jack Conway opined.

Conway issued a 12 page opinion Thursday afternoon in response to a request from Gov. Steve Beshear, who opposed the council's decision to hire Cowgill on April 14.

In a news conference, Conway said "the council was duty bound to conduct a national search."

Cowgill, a former state budget director for Gov. Ernie Fletcher, had been the council's interim president since Sept. 1, 2007. He was appointed to that post after the council terminated an unsuccessful search for a president.

Beshear has argued that the council ignored legal requirements that the council conduct a national search and come up with a president who has an established reputation and experience in postsecondary education.

Cowgill had no experience as a postsecondary administrator before being hired as the council's interim president.

Conway stressed that the opinion does not address Cowgill's qualifications. He said he believes a new search is needed, but noted that his opinion is only advisory.

Conway declined to offer advice about what the council or Beshear should do next, but noted that Beshear has the executive authority to reorganize the council.

Beshear said he was "not surprised" by the opinion. He said he wants to review the opinion and will have a statement later in the day.

The council is the coordinating agency for the state's eight public universities and the Kentucky Community and Technical College System. Among other things, the council recommends a biennial postsecondary education budget and it sets the limits on how much the institutions can increase tuition.

Conway's opinion also identified "numerous" violations of Kentucky's Open Meetings law. He said his office could not find records of the council voting for Cowgill to serve on an interim basis.

In the interest of full disclosure:

An interesting confluence of events has brought together a number of individuals for whom I have great respect and have had some relationship. They now find themselves as players on opposite teams.

I have known both Brad Cowgill and Steve Beshear as "Cassidy School parents."

Steve and Jane Beshear's son Andy attended Cassidy School in Lexington for his elementary years. If my memory is correct, I was Andy's principal for his final year. The Beshears were what we in the school business call terrific parents; knowledgeable, friendly and supportive not only of their own son but they contributed to the well-being of other people's children as well. I worked directly with Jane when she chaired the Kentucky Literacy Commission, of which I was a member in the mid-80s.

Brad And Margaret Cowgill were very active parents during their children's years at Cassidy and I came to know them well over a longer period of time. Active with the PTA and involved in matters related to the school, they volunteered many hours and I always found them to be extremely supportive of the school and its mission. I always found Brad to be passionate about the importance of a sound educational system in Kentucky. I thought CPE made a great choice when they selected Cowgill as the interim president.

Somewhat related, Jon Draud and I go way back. As a young teacher in Kenton County, I coached one of his sons; he was a Kenton County school board member; he was my instructor in the graduate program at Xavier University; my mother was his Board Treasurer in Ludlow (my school district) for almost 20 years...

Before I had any thought of the possibility that Jon Draud might become Kentucky's Education Commissioner I contributed to an effort to unseat Barbara Erwin - which ultimately lead to Draud's appointment.

Go figure.

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