Board of Trustees Bill Vote Deferred Until Next Week

Category: Higher Education

Photo of the Tennessee State Capitol on a bright, sunny day.

The UT FOCUS Act, which would reconstitute and restructure the UT Board of Trustees was heard this week in the House Education Administration & Planning Committee. The Haslam Administration has proposed the measure in an effort to help the UT Board of Trustees operate more efficiently.

The University of Tennessee supports the legislation, which is based on best practices for higher education governing boards as described by the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB).  A vote was ultimately deferred until next week’s committee meeting due to extensive discussion.

Education Chairman Harry Brooks (R-Knoxville) introduced an amendment to the bill that would require at least one alumnus per UT campus to serve on the Board of Trustees. The individual would not be required to live in the county the respective institution is located. The amendment also requires advisory boards to consist of members diverse in sex, race, experiences, and perspectives; establishes two additional subcommittees to the overall UT Board including an Academic Affairs and Student Success Committee; and creates one voting student position and one voting faculty position on the Academic Affairs and Student Success Committee.

Several individuals testified on the legislation.

Jordan Long, President of UT Martin’s Student Government Association (SGA) said he wants to see student representation on the overall UT Board and does not see the difference between a student’s position on an advisory board and the duties fulfilled by already established student organizations, such as SGA.

UT Knoxville Faculty Senate President, Beauvais Lyons, emphasized that the faculty have no concerns on reducing the size of the overall UT Board, but want representation. Lyons acknowledged the complexity of the UT system and voiced concerns over how the proposed legislation strips back committee structure.

Former national UT Alumni Association President Ron Kirkland also testified on the legislation before the Committee. Kirkland, noting he is a graduate of Martin, Knoxville, and Memphis campuses, requested the Committee to rethink the creation of campus advisory boards. While he did list multiple concerns, Kirkland expressed support for the general concept of downsizing the Board of Trustees and thanked Rep. Brooks for the introduction of the amendment.

Following the testimonies from outside individuals, Katie Ashley, Director of Legislation for the Haslam Administration, voiced support for the legislation on behalf of the Governor’s Office. Ashley shared her and her husband’s different experiences attending UT Knoxville and UT Martin. Ashley said campus advisory boards would offer a major benefit to each UT institution because each campus is unique and has their own needs. Ashley reiterated that student and faculty members would have voting positions on the Academic Affairs and Student Success Committee, created in the amendment.

Lawmakers continued to question why students should not be voting members of the full Board. More amendments may surface next week, where a vote is anticipated on the measure.

The bill is scheduled for its next hearing in the House Education Administration & Planning Committee on Tuesday, February 27, at 9:00 AM CT.  The bill was originally scheduled to be heard in the Senate Government Operations Committee on Wednesday of this week, but has been rescheduled to Wednesday, February 28, at 8:30 AM CT.