Summer Political Roundup

Haslam Hires COO
Gov. Bill Haslam has announced that Greg Adams will join his senior team as the state’s chief operating officer.  The COO position, created by Haslam, will replace retiring Deputy Governor Claude Ramsey.   Adams’ role will be to work with state departments to ensure they’re operating efficiently and effectively.  Ramsey retires on August 31, and Adams begins July 8.  Heading the Governor’s political and policy operation will be Chief of Staff Mark Cate.

Supreme Court Rules on Fisher vs. University of Texas at Austin
On June 24, The Supreme Court of the United States issued a ruling on Fisher vs. The University of Texas at Austin, a case involving race as a factor in college admissions and affirmative action policy.  By a 7-1 vote, the court sent the case back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit for reconsideration, while agreeing with the higher education community that diversity on college campuses offers unique educational benefits to students and is a compelling government interest.  In a complex decision for all parties involved, the court found that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit was at fault for not applying “strict scrutiny” to UT-Austin’s admission policies.  In essence, the higher education institution must be able to demonstrate that race neutral policies were unsuccessful in delivering a demographically diverse student and faculty population.

Recently in Tennessee, Sen. Jim Summerville (R-Dickson) sponsored legislation seeking to ban the use of preference based on race, gender, or ethnicity in college admissions, employment, and contracting.  The legislation, which the University opposed on the grounds that it offered no legal definition for preferential treatment, didn’t become law this year due to it’s lack of clarity and the pending Supreme Court decision.

Student Loan Interest Rates Double
Interest rates for newly-dispersed subsidized Stafford loans doubled from 3.4 to 6.8 percent on Monday, July 1 as a result of Congressional inaction.  Stafford loans make up approximately one quarter of all direct federal borrowing and are available to college and university students demonstrating financial need.  Congress could still act after the July 4 holiday, either retroactively providing relief or effectively lowering the rate for students taking out Stafford loans for the fall semester since the majority of students do not take out such aid until August (closer to the beginning of the academic year).  However, Congress soon goes into summer recess, leaving limited time for lawmakers to find compromise and act.  The increased rate impacts new student loans only.

Guns-In-Trunks Becomes Law; Effective July 1
A new Tennessee law, often referred to as the “Guns-In-Trunks” law, became effective on July 1.   In accordance with an opinion issued by the Tennessee Attorney General on May 28, 2013, University policies prohibiting the possession of firearms on University property are not affected by the Guns-in-Trunks law and will remain in effect on July 1.  For employees, the University’s Code of Conduct prohibits the “possession of firearms, explosives, or other dangerous materials on university property or during university activities” (Human Resources Policy 580).  For students, the University’s Code of Conduct prohibits students from “possessing, using, storing, or manufacturing any weapon or facsimile of a weapon on University-controlled property or in connection with a University-affiliated activity, unless authorized in writing by the Chief of Police or his/her designee.”  “Possession” includes having a firearm in one’s personal vehicle.  There are no exceptions to these University policies for employees or students with handgun carry permits.  Furthermore, it is illegal in Tennessee for anyone other than law enforcement or others authorized by law to carry guns on the campuses of public universities.

UTC Angles for Bright Future
Dr. Steve Angle officially took the reigns as Chancellor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga on July 1.  Angle formerly served as senior vice president at Wright State University.  Introductory meetings have already been scheduled for Chancellor Angle with the Hamilton County delegation of the Tennessee General Assembly as well as with the Tennessee Congressional delegation in Washington.