Three days after chiding Gov. Steve Beshear for leaving the University of Louisville Board of Trustees without an African-American for the first time in 45 years, Louisville NAACP President Raoul Cunningham expressed further displeasure Friday after being told that three black candidates — including an incumbent and a former board chairman — were among the nine people recommended to fill three seats.
Through an open records request, the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting received a list of the nine people recommended for the U of L board last month by the state’s Postsecondary Education Nominating Committee. From that list, Beshear selected Paul Diaz, the executive vice chairman of Louisville-based Kindred Healthcare; Larry Hayes, the state’s secretary of economic development; and an incumbent, Laurence Benz. Diaz is Hispanic, Hayes and Benz are white. (See all the committee’s recommendations)
Three African-American nominees were passed over. Kevin Cosby, a Louisville minister, had been appointed to the the U of L board by Beshear in 2009, and his term expired June 30. Also recommended by the committee was Ulysses “Junior” Bridgeman, a well-known former U of L basketball player, Wendy’s restaurant franchisee and former U of L board member who served as its chairman from 2003 to 2005. The third was Louisville attorney Derwin Webb, a U of L graduate and a former U of L assistant athletic director.
“For him not to appoint an African-American is a slap in the face of the entire African-American community,” Cunningham said of Beshear. “He mooned us on his way out of office.”
Cunningham said he did not know that Cosby, Bridgeman and Webb had been recommended to the U of L board when he wrote a critical letter to Beshear earlier this week.
“I probably would have mentioned that in my letter had I known that,” he said. “What is more frustrating to me is the fact that African-Americans are roughly 20 percent of Jefferson County. U of L is located in the city with the largest African-American population in the state, and the African American community overwhelmingly gave Steve Beshear their votes.
In a written statement, Beshear spokesman Terry Sebastian said “it is difficult to balance any board’s composition geographically, demographically, politically and from a policy background perspective.
“The governor looks to experience, relevant subject matter expertise and a host of other factors to ensure qualified representatives on the university boards and extends his best efforts to fulfill the intention of the statutes when appointing members,” he said. “The governor was glad to appoint Kevin Cosby to the University of Louisville’s Board of Trustees in 2009, and he thanks Rev. Cosby for his hard work and dedication. The governor also was happy to appoint this year a first-generation Cuban-American, Paul Diaz.
“Throughout his time in office, the governor has worked to ensure minority representation in myriad ways,” Sebastian said. “In 2009, he set diversity records by appointing three African-Americans to fill judicial vacancies in Jefferson County. These record-breaking appointments marked the greatest judicial diversity in Jefferson County history, as well as the greatest diversity ever seen by any Kentucky county.”
The nominating committee, which met in late June, is required to recommend three people for each vacancy on college boards across the state. The governor chooses appointees from those recommendations.
The newest appointees to the U of L board will begin serving at a time when when members have grown increasingly wary of compensation paid to U of L President James Ramsey and other high-ranking officials through the U of L Foundation, as well as the amount of information they receive as trustees. At the board’s May meeting, those concerns lit a fire under what is ordinarily a sleepy affair.
Neither Cosby, Bridgeman nor Webb could be reached for comment early Friday afternoon.
Reporter James McNair can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (502) 814.6543.
Disclosure: In October 2014, the University of Louisville, which for years has donated to Louisville Public Media, earmarked $10,000 to KyCIR as part of a larger LPM donation. Trustee Stephen Campbell has donated to KyCIR.