Haslam eyes downsizing UT board, changing leader selection process

Gov. Bill Haslam is considering reducing the number University of Tennessee Board of Trustees, reports Nashville Ledger. Lt. Gov. Randy McNally  says the governor is also eyeing changes in the process for selecting a new UT president or the chancellors who head individual UT campuses.

Haslam spokeswoman Jennifer Donnals declined to address specifics Friday but said “the governor is having conversations about ways to help the UT Board of Trustees operate more efficiently and effectively.”

…The governor is set to announce his legislative and policy initiatives in January.

The board has 26 members, including the governor, who serves as chairman and a voting member. Seventeen members selected from Tennessee’s congressional districts serve on the board, as well, along with two student members, two faculty members and three department commissioners who can cast votes.

The governor might believe the board is “a little bit unmanageable at that size, so they’re gonna try to reduce it down,” McNally says. “How they do it, I haven’t heard. But that’s one of his initiatives.”

State Sen. Becky Duncan Massey, a UT-Knoxville graduate, also confirmed the governor is considering proposing changes in the board’s structure, possibly by reducing the number of members or even instituting advisory boards at UT’s five campuses.

Massey, a Knoxville Republican, attended a lunch meeting Friday with the governor and McNally where the matter was discussed. She said the proposal stems, in part, from the FOCUS Act in which boards of trustees were set up this year at Tennessee’s state colleges such as MTSU and TSU.

“Having a small board is more efficient, because there’s been … a number of times that because that (UT) board’s so big I don’t think they’re really doing as well as some of us would maybe hope they would at times,” Massey says. “You don’t want them to micromanage, but sometimes you’d like them to be a little more active.”

… State Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate who earned his bachelor’s and law degrees at the University of Tennessee, says both moves would be bad, adding he is “quite surprised” by the potential for reducing the size of the UT Board of Trustees.

“It’s a land-grant university,” Fitzhugh says. “Right now, we have a situation where the membership is spread out through the congressional districts in the state, ensuring that we have broad representation.

“It’s also by political parties, which I think is very important. No matter who’s in power, so to speak, it gives a good balance.”

Fitzhugh, a banker and attorney from rural Ripley in West Tennessee, was a candidate for the UT presidency when the Board of Trustees selected Joe DiPietro for the leadership post in 2011. DiPietro also serves on the board as an ex-officio, voting member.

“I thought it was an outstanding process to go through to find a president,” Fitzhugh says. “I think it is a state university that uses public funds, that uses funds from students and their parents, and I think it’s very important that we need to be clear and transparent and as fully open as we can.”

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