Elaine Farris

KSU Board Chair Farris expressed her appreciation of Council on Postsecondary Education President Dr. Aaron Thompson for his presentation, and said that people on campus have also worked to try and reveal the truth since the office began its review. (Austin Horn | The State Journal)

All but one member of the Kentucky State University Board of Regents voted to keep Elaine Farris and Dalton Jantzen at their posts as lead officers of the school’s governing board.

Staff Regent Chandee Felder was the only "no" vote against a motion to keep Farris as chair and Jantzen as vice chair.

Farris has served as board chair since August 2017, months after former president M. Christopher Brown's hiring that spring.

The motion to keep the pair in their officer roles was made by Roger Reynolds, who was unanimously approved to become the board’s next secretary. Former President M. Christopher Brown II had previously served as board secretary during the majority of his tenure.

This was the first time that officer elections were held since September 2019, a delay that had seemingly given the governor authority to remove appointed members from the board for not holding an election annually.

Thompson update

Aside from an update on the school's lackluster finances from new CFO Greg Rush, Council on Postsecondary Education President Aaron Thompson provided an update on his office's review into the school's finances and plan to create recommendations for the school moving forward.

He said that his office has a "long way to go" to understand the extent of issues at KSU — Thompson previously said that his office would have the latitude to look into most everything at the university.

"We've got a long way to go to figure out what's going on," Thompson said. "But getting students in class and getting people ready for class and success is our number one mission. I know you've been in the throes of that."

Thompson also mentioned that his office, which last approved a "management and improvement plan" for KSU during Brown's tenure in late 2019, didn't have access to part of the school's records when it helped them create those plans.

Those plans were first set up by state legislative action and began in 2016, when Thompson was interim president of the school. The 2016 report is nearly 100 pages long, while the 2019 management plan update is only 20.

The management plans were due every year for four years, from '16 to '19, per CPE General Counsel Travis Powell. He added that 

CPE always received a copy, approved the plans and that Brown would frequently report to CPE on progress. The reports were also submitted to the state legislature's Interim Joint Committee on Appropriations and Revenue.

The 2019 plan showed, in "report card" grading style, linear progress for KSU on nearly all fronts including finances. Compared to fall 2016, all financial "grades" improved. Thompson said that CPE didn't get the full extent of records reflecting those grades.

"We didn't have access to the internal records to make sure that those were staying on target, to be honest with you," Thompson said. "We relied on the information provided to us that they were on target. I'll leave it up to your discretion, and I won't make a statement whether they were reported in the right way or not. I will just say that this time around, we will have access and understand exactly if targets are being reached."

Thompson also touched on the idea that CPE would help identify areas of growth for KSU, including certain programs that could take place there.

Looking forward, he also said that his office will play a "very active" role in the selection process for a new president.

"We will look carefully at what kind of leader it will take," Thompson said. "We'll have to take some time and really understand and figure out what that profile looks like."

As interim president, Thompson was granted an interview for the permanent job but did not make it to the finalist round.

"At the time we really have enough information, we'll recommend to you all to put together a search committee," Thompson said. "I won't say whether or not the last search committee for president was good or bad... we're gonna make sure that it's clear and clean and free of all bias."

On the topic of bias, Thompson addressed his own connection to the university by saying that he was biased "in a positive way" towards the success of the university.

He previously told The State Journal that he did not believe that his former role as interim president, or his connection to Farris — he was her dissertation advisor at Eastern Kentucky University — would affect his judgement as the man tasked with leading a review into the school.

Farris expressed her appreciation of Thompson and Rush for their presentations, and said that people on campus have also worked to try and reveal the truth.

"I think everybody on this campus has been a part of trying to uncover — and as we said earlier there were more rocks and turnover," Farris said. "We don't know exactly what else is out there. But this is a great start."

Items and updates

The board voted unanimously to authorize drawing up $2.5 million from a maximum $5 million revenue anticipation note — a type of short-term loan — with Fifth Third bank.

The board also approved continuing housing contracts for the semester to house students in Capital Plaza Hotel and Best Western Parkside Inn. All told, the contracts will cost the school about $550,000 to house 178 students.

893 students currently stay on the main campus, per Interim VP of Student Engagement and Campus Life Pernella Deams.

On the topic of housing, Acting President Clara Stamps addressed numerous complaints that she said the university had received regarding the state of campus housing.

Stamps, who has led the university for a month following Brown’s resignation, said that the state of many residence halls was “not acceptable.”

“The sad news is that we did not meet our students and parents’ expectations for campus housing,” Stamps said. “In fact, the conditions of the residence hall are not acceptable. I was extremely disappointed to walk the halls of residence halls and see firsthand the state of our facilities.

Stamps said that potential causes of the issue were students occupying dorms over the summer, meaning that they could not be fully maintained, and that the university has not been able to hire for maintenance positions as it normally can. In part due to the COVID-19 pandemic, labor shortages have been a lingering problem across the country. 

Aside from Young Hall, which was built in 2006, all of KSU’s six other dorms were built from 1928 to 1966.

She called the improvement of housing conditions an “institutional priority,” on which the board will be continuously updated. 

Stamps closed her first update as president of the school on a positive note, saying that the school would not be defined by the bad news shared via CFO Greg Rush’s financial update.

“The Kentucky State model of ‘onward, upward,’ has never had more meaning than it does right now,” Stamps said. “It is the essence of continuous movement towards excellence and what is possible. Kentucky State will not be defined by a single moment, it has existed for over 135 years, no challenge will hold back the collective strength of our people who are fully aware that this is an endless journey, not a defining moment.”

You can find 2016 and 2019's management plan reports attached to this article online. Links for 2017 and 2018 plans are provided below:

 

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