Last fall, when I was working on a feature about how states are rethinking their approach to higher education, naturally I turned to Kentucky, which a decade ago passed an ambitious law that has become a model for other states. The law was designed not just to bolster colleges and universities but to better coordinate their activities so that Kentucky could produce more of the types of graduates it needs.

It's had mixed success, but at any rate the point is that at the time I picked up on some rumblings that people were unhappy that Brad Cowgill, who served as budget director for outgoing Gov. Ernie Fletcher, was going to be the new head of the coordinating Council on Postsecondary Education.

Cowgill is supposed to take over on Thursday. But Steve Beshear, the new governor, doesn't think he's qualified. Now Paul Patton, the former Democratic governor who pushed for the law that created the council, has weighed in against Cowgill as well.

Former Gov. Paul Patton, the driving force behind Kentucky's 1997 higher education reforms, says Gov. Steve Beshear is right to challenge the Council on Postsecondary Education over the hiring of Brad Cowgill as its president.

Patton, the governor from 1995 to 2003, said Sunday that the "obvious intent of the law" is for the council president to be "one of the most highly respected positions in higher education in the nation."

"Under the circumstances, Mr. Cowgill does not fit what is intended or needed," Patton said. "He doesn't have a background in education administration and does not have the knowledge of how universities really operate."

The former governor said he was not questioning Cowgill's "intelligence, dedication and commitment," but he added: "I can't see how he's got the background to do the job."

Patton, a Democrat, said the council presidency is "not a place for amateurs."