Legislators grill Haslam UT board nominees over Sex Week and more; one withdraws

The University of Tennessee system’s current Board of Trustees vice chairman, Raja Jubran, on Wednesday withdrew as a nominee to serve on UT’s freshly re-configured board after it became clear the Knoxville businessman and friend of Gov. Bill Haslam faced significant hurdles in winning legislative confirmation, reports the Times Free Press. After four hours of grilling the governor’s nine other nominees, a House committee approved their confirmation while a Senate committee delayed a vote.

Some majority Republicans in the General Assembly felt Jubran had not cracked down sufficiently on UT-Knoxville campus controversies, which have roiled social conservatives, as well as other issues.

The move came before Haslam’s other nine nominees went before House and Senate education committees Wednesday for confirmation hearings on the appointments to the new board approved only last week by lawmakers at Haslam’s urging.

Lawmakers grilled them for hours. Concerns include ire over the UT-Knoxville campus’ annual student-run “Sex Week,” which often deploys provocative methods to educate students about safe sex, as well as sexual harassment and assault.

Other controversies have erupted over what conservatives consider excessive political correctness at the campus. And last year’s UT-Knoxville athletic department fiasco was a concern.

At the same time, a number of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle feared there would be a new push by Jubran and the new board to get campuses at UT-Knoxville, UT-Chattanooga, UT-Martin and the UT Health Sciences Center in Memphis to reconsider their rejections of facilities management outsourcing, a pet project of the governor, who leaves office in January.

Under the current board system, Tennessee’s governor is officially the UT board chairman. But with governors rarely attending board meetings, the heavy lifting often falls to whoever is vice chairman. Jubran often handled the heavy lifting.

Under Haslam’s UT Focus Act, which takes effect in July, the board shrinks from 27 members to just 12. The governor no longer is on the board. The state agriculture commissioner remains, as does a now-non-voting student.

Jubran’s difficulties in winning confirmation stunned some who believe he was being unfairly blamed.

Further from The Tennessean:

“I think the legislature has a concern about, quite frankly centered around Sex Week over at UT Knoxville. I understand that concern. I don’t like it,” Haslam said after the House Education and Planning Committee took Jubran’s appointment off notice.  “I feel like the legislature wanted to send a message regarding that. I think with that, Raja said, ‘You know, maybe the smartest thing for me to do is to not go forward.'”

Haslam said Jubran voluntarily withdrew his name.

Lawmakers asked each appointee variations of the same questions about the controversial topics, highlighting longstanding frustrations.

In their answers, the board appointees decried UT Knoxville’s controversial sex education week, discussed the school’s $2.5 million separation agreement with former athletic director John Currie and said they would not support outsourcing. 

All of the other appointees, including John Compton, Kara Lawson, Donnie Smith, Sharon Pryse, Kim White, Bill Rhodes, Melvin Malone, Bill Evans and Brad Lampley, advanced in the House. The Senate Education Committee also took Jubran’s name off notice, but deferred action on the others.

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