Second Round of Senate Higher Education Oversight Subcommittee Hearings Announced for December

The Senate Education Committee met yesterday in order to conduct several hearings related to K-12 curriculum and voucher issues.  At the end of those hearings, Sen. Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald), Chairman of the Senate Higher Education Oversight Subcommittee, requested and received permission from Education Chair Sen. Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) to hold another round of higher education hearings in December.

The hearings follow a set of Higher Education Oversight hearings conducted in mid-October, where governance was also an agenda item (although the primary focus was on diversity-related policies and spending on UT campuses).

Based on Sen. Hensley’s comments in yesterday’s Committee meeting, the December hearings are expected to focus on how the three major higher education entities (UT, the Board of Regents, and the Tennessee Higher Education Commission) interact, how board and commission members are selected, and duties of those board members.

Stay tuned for more information.

Senate Panel Zeros In on Diversity Funding at UT

The Senate Higher Education Oversight Subcommittee convened yesterday to discuss diversity at the University of Tennessee, overall higher education governance, and to receive an update on the Tennessee Promise.  The Subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Joey Hensely (R-Hohenwald), spent the majority of their time diving into diversity efforts and associated spending at University of Tennessee campuses.

Members of the Subcommittee also include Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) and Sen. Reginald Tate (D-Memphis).  Additional members, including Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Memphis) and Representatives Martin Daniel (R-Knoxville) and John Ragan (R-Oak Ridge), joined the hearing to ask questions of University leadership.

A good recap of the hearing can be found here:

Lawmakers challenge UT’s diversity funding
by Adam Tamburin, The Tennessean

An archived video of the hearing should be available soon at

Hearings continue today, where the focus is expected to shift to topics such as campus safety and the higher education funding formula.

Senate Panel Conducts Oversight Hearing on Wide Range of Topics, Including Diversity, Governance

The Senate Higher Education Oversight Subcommittee will conduct hearings today and tomorrow focused on diversity policies and programs at UT campuses, governance of higher education, and campus safety, among other topics like the higher education funding formula and Tennessee Promise.

For more information and background on the hearing, click here.

The hearing begins at 1:30 p.m. CT and can be viewed online here.

Governor Haslam Names Henry New Chief of Staff, Announces Changes to Senior Team

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam today announced Jim Henry as his new chief of staff.  Henry currently serves as commissioner of the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) and replaces Mark Cate who announced his departure last month.

“Over the past four years, Jim has led two departments in state government that handle some of our most difficult work concerning our most vulnerable citizens,” Haslam said. “Along with his experience in DIDD and DCS, he has been a mayor, a legislator and businessman. I appreciate his willingness to serve in this capacity and bring his knowledge and expertise to our office.”

Henry, 70, first served in the Haslam administration as the first commissioner of the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD), which was formerly a division of the Department of Finance and Administration before becoming a state department on January 15, 2011.  He became commissioner of DCS in 2013.

“I am honored to serve the administration in this new capacity and look forward to working in the governor’s office,” Henry said.  “I’ll miss working every day with the dedicated and hardworking employees at DCS but know that they will continue to do great work for the state.”

Before joining the Haslam administration, Henry served as president and chief executive officer of Omni Visions, Inc., a company serving adults with developmental disabilities and children and families in crisis.  A Vietnam veteran and former mayor of Kingston, Henry spent 12 years as a state representative and six of those years as minority leader.

Haslam also announced that Leslie Hafner, 45, who currently serves as director for legislation, will be promoted to senior advisor to the governor.  Hafner is a 20-year veteran of legislative plaza and Tennessee politics.  Before joining the Haslam administration, she was a principal at Hafner/Alexander Government Relations.  She has also been director of government relations for Bass, Berry & Sims and served seven years in the administration of Governor Don Sundquist.

In addition, the governor announced that Will Cromer, 30, who currently serves as policy director will be promoted.  Cromer will become special assistant to the governor for strategy and will also continue to serve as director of policy.  Prior to joining the Haslam administration, Cromer served as policy director for the 2010 Bill Haslam for Governor campaign and as a member of the governor-elect’s transition team.  Cromer previously worked for the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) and before that worked in the Washington, D.C. nonprofit sector promoting free market policies.

The governor also announced that Deputy Director for Legislation Warren Wells, 31, will become the new director for legislation.  Before joining the administration as a legislative liaison to the Department of Finance and Administration, Wells served as a research analyst for the Senate Transportation Committee and worked in the office of Sen. Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville).  Before that he spent nine years in the Army National Guard.  He served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and was stationed at Al Taqaddum, Iraq, where he earned a Combat Action Badge and Army Accommodation Medal.

The appointments are effective August 1.

UT Board of Trustees Approves Lowest Tuition Percentage Increase in Decades

1913500_864643106917993_2575225337038117204_oOne of the first signs of striking change in the University of Tennessee’s business model is the lowest tuition percentage increase in more than 30 years that was approved Thursday by the UT Board of Trustees.

Undergraduate tuition will increase by 3 percent at UT campuses in Knoxville, Chattanooga and Martin as part of the $2.13 billion budget for FY16. The last time all three campuses increased tuition for undergraduates by 3 percent was in 1983-84. UT Knoxville and UT Martin increased tuition by 3 percent in 1997.

The minimal increase is due to an increase of $24.4 million in state support and the University’s commitment to securing a sustainable long-term business model. The University is seeking to address a projected $377 million annual funding gap over the next decade and shift the burden for closing that gap away from students and their families. The University made its budget plans under the assumption of 3 percent inflation, 3 percent tuition increases and flat state funding.

“This tuition increase follows our 3-3-0 model we have been discussing for nearly a year now. This year, we are pleased that state appropriations were strong,” UT President Joe DiPietro said. “We did very well this year in state funding and thank the governor and legislators for their support. We must continue to press for increased support but also plan for difficult budget circumstances in the future.”

The University received $8.3 million from state appropriations to partially fund a 1.5 percent pay increase for employees. UT is supplementing that with $16.3 million from fees, grants and contracts, endowments and budget reallocations. Each campus and institute has varying plans for additional pay increases.

“Over the last year, we have raised awareness about the University’s business model and anticipated funding gaps. We have taken ownership of this issue and have taken action. Our campuses and institutes are working hard on changing their budgets to reflect this need,” DiPietro said. “This is a process. It’s a long journey, and we are only at the beginning. But I feel very good about where we are currently and where we are headed.”

The board paid tribute to Dr. Ed Boling, who served as president from 1970-88 and died June 18 at the age of 93. He was the longest-serving president in modern times and is noted for the increased enrollment and physical footprint of the University and for his dedication to building strong donor and alumni relationships.

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