This story has been updated with a correction.
For the first time in more than 40 years, not a single one of Gov. Steve Beshear’s appointees to the University of Louisville’s Board of Trustees is black. The urban university’s board is also the only one among Kentucky’s public universities without a single governor-appointed racial minority since Beshear’s most recent appointments in June.
Kentucky law requires university boards to include proportional representation of the state’s racial minorities. U of L’s board has 20 members, 17 of whom are appointed by the governor.
John Johnson, executive director of the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, said the recent changes are concerning.
“U of L has, I thought, always tried to be a pacesetter in setting a proper direction for full diversity,” he said.
Johnson said because U of L serves the largest African-American population in the state, its board should be the leader in racial diversity — instead of the worst example.
“I believe African-Americans make up a little better than 23 percent of the population of the Jefferson County area,” Johnson said. “It just would seem to me, obviously, that it would be desirable to have an African-American on the board.”
The board’s student representative, who is not appointed by the governor, is its only African-American member. Beshear recently appointed Paul Diaz, a Cuban-American and executive vice chairman of Kindred Healthcare, to replace the board’s only African-American member appointed by the governor, Dr. Kevin Cosby.
The Justice Resource Center and the West Louisville Ministers Coalition responded by saying Diaz is not a “racial minority” but rather an “ethnic minority.” They asked Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway to issue a legal opinion on Beshear’s appointments.
The governor defended his record in an interview ahead of the Fancy Farm Picnic last weekend.
“I am very proud of the minority appointments we’ve made through the years,” Beshear said Friday. “I think we probably have a better track record than any prior administration.”
Johnson said Beshear has, by and large, appointed members to university boards who reflect Kentucky’s racial diversity.
“I almost hate to pile on and beat up on someone who, from what I have observed, is a very decent person who wants to do the right thing,” Johnson said. “I just think this is such a glaring thing.”
At the moment, U of L’s is the only governing board out of compliance with a state law that says public university boards must reflect “no less than proportional representation of the minority racial composition of the Commonwealth.”
According to 2010 U.S. Census figures, 12.21 percent of the state population is a racial minority. This includes people who identify as non-white — i.e., people who identify as black, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian or Native Hawaiian/other Pacific Islander — according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Because state law requires that U of L’s board be “no less than” proportional, at least three of its 17 members appointed by the governor should be of a racial minority.
Using the same Census data, under state law, the University of Kentucky’s is required to have at least two racial minorities on its 16-member governor-appointed board — and it does.
At least one of the eight governor-appointed members of the boards of regents at the state’s other public universities must be a racial minority. Those include Eastern Kentucky University, the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, Kentucky State University, Morehead State University, Murray State University, Northern Kentucky University and Western Kentucky University.
Right now, they all meet that requirement. Some even have two people of color sitting on their boards.
Beshear has defended his most recent U of L appointments, saying it is difficult to meet those diversity requirements every year.
“The statute says that, you know, you try to meet all of these different requirements in terms of race, in terms of geography, in terms of political party,” he said. “You will find — if you go back through history — that each one of these boards from time to time will be off somehow, because you simply can’t get it all done in any one year. And so, it is a best-efforts kind of thing that governors do.”
Johnson said there are always enough qualified minorities to fill these positions — especially in Louisville.
“Of all the institutions of higher learning in this state, U of L has the largest African-American draw population,” he said.
In at least one instance, Beshear has made sure to follow the law when alerted to a problem.
In June 2013, Pam Miller, chair of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, sent a memo to the governor’s office warning that “the membership of Northern Kentucky University Board of Regents does not reflect the level of diversity required by KRS 164.321 (3).” The following month, Beshear appointed Andra’ R. Ward to the board.
And earlier this year, Beshear appointed an African-American, Eric E. Howard of Lexington, to Morehead State’s board of regents.
However, out of Beshear’s 18 appointments during the past year, Howard was the only African-American.
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that the U of L Board of Trustees’ one student representative, who is not appointed by the governor, is African-American. In addition, a previous version of this story said Eric E. Howard was the first African-American to sit on Morehead State University’s Board of Regents. He is not
This story was reported by Ashley Lopez of KyCIR’s sister newsroom, 89.3 WFPL.