UT diversity squabble tied to Haslam’s bill shrinking UT Board of Trustees

Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to shrink the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees came under renewed criticism Tuesday in a legislative hearing with some lawmakers joined by  student and faculty representatives and a past chairman of the national UT Alumni Association in questioning the measure, reports the Times Free Press. The administration has offered some amendments, but the bill is still stuck in committees without a vote being taken.

“I’ve said if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, told Assistant Majority Leader David Hawk, R-Greeneville, who is carrying the Republican governor’s bill. “I’m trying to figure out what exactly is broke with the University of Tennessee trustees.”

Hawk replied “There are folks who would say maybe the system is broken,” prompting Fitzhugh to retort, “I just don’t want it to be those hiccups why we’re doing this.”

By hiccups, Fitzhugh said he meant the years-long uproar among socially conservative Republicans over the UT-Knoxville campus’ office of diversity, which led to the program’s defunding in 2016, as well as “some of the problem the governor possibly had with the Board of Trustees and the [UT] chancellor.”

“I think you answered your own question,” Hawk said. “Those are the concerns, yes sir, I believe those are concerns.”

In addition to the office of diversity kerfuffle, Fitzhugh also alluded to the UT campus chancellors rejecting Haslam’s proposed contract for outsourcing facilities management services. Haslam has said that’s not a reason for his bringing the bill in his final year in office.

The governor’s “University of Tennessee Focus Act” would shrink the university system’s governing board from 27 members to just 11.

…In hopes of muting some of last week’s concerns voiced in the House Education Administration and Planning Subcommittee, the governor’s team returned to the full committee Tuesday with several revisions based on suggestions made last week by full Committee Chairman Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville, and Dr. Ron Kirkland, a former president of the national UT Alumni Association.

Those revisions keep the proposed 11-member UT system board but would allow student and faculty representatives to serve on a committee dealing with student and faculty issues.

Per a suggestion from Kirkland, they also would require that a graduate from each of the four universities have a representative on the full board, although the amendment doesn’t require them to actually live in the community.

…Committee members ran out their allotted time without action on either of the administration amendments, let alone the bill itself. It was rolled until next week.

UPDATE/Note: In a subsequent story, the TFP has this comment on the bill from Senate Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell (R-Riceville):

Using an analogy, the chairman said that “when we get a piece of legislation, we like to take that piece of legislation and chew on it and break it down into something digestible.

“Well,” Bell continued, “I would compare this bill to an old, tough piece of bear meat. The more I chew on it, the bigger it gets. And I’m somewhat concerned about the future of this bill.”

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