House committee revises, then approves Haslam bill shrinking UT Board of Trustees

A state House committee approved today Gov. Bill Haslam’s bill to shrink the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees after revisions the administration agreed to accept after a round of recent criticism. A key alteration is to add a non-voting student member to the panel.

The House Education Administration and Planning Committee voted down attempts to give the student member voting rights and to postpone the UT Board provisions until next year, when Haslam will be out of office and a new governor in place.

As approved by the committee, the new UT Board will have 11 voting members plus the non-voting student member. The governor will appoint the members subject to confirmation by both the state House and Senate. The current board has 27 members.

Also, the “big board” – a phrase used by Rep. David Hawk (R-Greeneville), who is handling the bill for the administration – will be accompanied by four “advisory” boards of seven members each. There will be an advisory board for each of the four UT campuses – at Knoxville, Chattanooga, Martin and Memphis – with seats guaranteed to alumni of the campuses. Four members of the big board would  have to be alumni of the UT system.

While at least two Democrats on the committee voiced support for the revised bill, House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, who is seeking Democratic nomination for governor, did not.

He characterized the legislation as “a massive power play” by the outgoing administration that eliminates present requirements for gender and political diversity on the board as well as voting authority now held by student and faculty members of the present panel. He questioned whether the legislature will have enough time to conduct through hearings on confirming the governor’s nominees before adjournment on the target date of April 15.

Hawk said the bill (HB2115) provides needed streamlining; that members of the big board will be attentive to views of the student member and declared that a full vetting of gubernatorial nominees and “no rubber stamp.” There was discussion on whether Haslam has a “pocket list” of likely appointees that have not been disclosed, but Hawk said he could only speculate that was the case.

Rep. Ron Lollar (R-Bartlett) proposed separate amendments to give the student member of the big board voting power and to postpone establishment of the board until July, 2019. Both were rejected on voice votes.

The overall bill was also approved on voice vote. The first Senate committee vote on the measure is scheduled for Wednesday in the Senate Government Operations Committee.

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