Senate signs off on Haslam restructuring of UT Board of Trustees, 27-3

The state Senate approved 27-3 Tennessee Monday evening Gov. Bill Haslam’s legislation to restructure  the University of Tennessee board of trustees, slashing the main governing panel from 27 to 11 members and creating “advisory” boards for each of the system’s four campuses. A few critics noted that there will now be 39 appointees on five boards overseeing UT operations under the “FOCUS Act” and questioned whether that is actual streamlining.

Further from the Times Free Press report:

“I just feel like this is such a major change and the University of Tennessee had a perfect audit,” said Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, who went on to allude to actions primarily at UT-Knoxville that have inflamed the socially conservative GOP-controlled General Assembly in recent years. “I know we’ve disagreed with some of the decisions coming out of UT recently.”

The bill slashes the number of trustees from 27 to 11, removing the governor and two of his commissioners, and it eliminates language from current law that specially designates appointments by

Now, a governor will “strive” to appoint someone from the local area or a graduate of a university campus. Haslam’s bill also removes the voting student and faculty member from the UT system board.

The governor argues they will get representation on the seven-member “advisory boards” he is creating for each campus. The advisory panels will work with individual chancellors in areas such as annual budgets and student tuition and fee increases.

The campus boards are strictly advisory and their recommendations don’t have to be followed by the UT system board.

A number of former UT officials, student leaders and one-time heads of the UT Alumni Association fought the legislation. They said while they didn’t object to reducing the UT system board, they thought it was necessary to ensure local representation, and some fretted that the campus advisory boards could eventually lead to a breakup of the UT system itself.

“We’re about to make a pretty gigantic change to the governance of this organization,” said Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jeff Yarbro of Nashville, who went on to question the “urgency” of acting now and asked “is there a crisis?”

Haslam has said his rationale for the legislation is his so-far successful breakup of the Tennessee Board of Regents. Lawmakers in 2016 approved his legislation splitting the system’s five universities from the system, which now just oversees community and technical colleges, and giving each university its own board.

…The bill (SB2260) is being rushed through in order to give Haslam the ability to make the appointments before legislators conclude their annual session next month. (House approval is anticipated Thursday.)

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