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Two members of Kentucky State University board resign

July 23, 2021 GMT

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Two members of Kentucky State University’s governing board resigned days before the abrupt departure of the campus president, adding to the upheaval in the highest ranks of the school as it faces an independent investigation into its finances.

Soon after M. Christopher Brown II’s resignation as school president this week, Gov. Andy Beshear called for an independent accounting of KSU’s finances and signed an order empowering the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education to provide guidance and oversight during the review.

The development comes as Kentucky’s sole public historically Black university contends with concerns about its financial health and lawsuits alleging misconduct by campus officials.

In the days before Brown’s departure, Candace McGraw submitted her resignation from the school’s Board of Regents. In her resignation letter, McGraw said she was “not fully aware of the time needed to engage fully in order to ensure the ongoing success of the university.”

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“Since I would not be able to fulfill my responsibility to the best of my ability, I believe the university would be better served by another appointee,” her letter said.

McGraw, a recent board appointee, is CEO of Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

Paul Harnice also resigned from the school’s board before Brown left, The State Journal reported. The Frankfort newspaper was the first to report on the regents’ resignations. Harnice did not immediately respond to a phone call and an email on Friday from The Associated Press.

Harnice’s resignation letter did not provide an apparent reason for his resignation, The State Journal reported.

“The purpose of this letter is to advise you that I have decided to resign from the Board of Regents of Kentucky State University effective immediately,” Harnice said. “It goes without saying that I wish the best to Kentucky State University, its employees and students going forward.”

Brown, who was KSU’s president since 2017, spoke about his resignation in a podcast appearance posted this week. He insisted the school’s financial issues were unrelated to his leadership.

“This is not about malfeasance, this is not about litigation, this is not about missing money,” Brown said. “It’s about a cash flow question, which is, let me say to be honest and fair, a very real question.”

Brown did not elaborate further and could not be reached for further explanation of his comments.

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In April, KSU said it received positive results from its annual independent financial audit, with a budget surplus of $2.3 million for fiscal year 2020. The legislature last year authorized a $55.5 million bond to build a 400-bed dormitory and dining hall using private financing. Under a public-private partnership, a Lexington company will operate and maintain the property and KSU will finance it through a 35-year lease, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported.

After Brown’s resignation, the school’s regents named senior vice president and spokeswoman Clara Ross Stamps as acting president at the Frankfort school. They also voted to hire auditors to review the school’s financial situation. Stamps declined afterward to provide any information about possible problems or the reason for Brown’s departure.

“The Council on Postsecondary Education is poised and ready to provide our assistance to the leadership of Kentucky State University as they move forward,” council President Aaron Thompson said.

In his executive order, Beshear directed Kentucky’s postsecondary education council to assess the school’s financial status and provide a report prior to submitting appropriation recommendations for the next biennial budget. The council also will assist the university in developing a management and improvement plan.

“I believe in KSU,” the Democratic governor told reporters. “So we are going to work to get through this time. We are going to work to get back on track. And my commitment is to be transparent once this audit is done, so that everybody can see any of the concerns that are out there.”

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Hudspeth Blackburn is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.