Dueling Amendments Adopted to UT FOCUS Act; Conversations to Continue Next Week

Photo of campus building

The UT FOCUS Act, which would reconstitute and restructure the UT Board of Trustees, was heard this week in both the Senate and House Government Operations Committees, where two different amendments have now been adopted by the respective committees.

The Haslam Administration has proposed the measure in an effort to help the UT Board of Trustees operate more efficiently and effectively. 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).

Several national UT Alumni Association Presidents testified in opposition to the bill during Committee consideration this week. Their testimony centered on two primary points: ensuring that representation existed on the Board from alumni of each UT campus, and eliminating the campus advisory boards created by the bill. Their argument contends that multiple advisory avenues already exist and that statutorily creating the new boards adds bureaucracy and redundancy.

House Majority Caucus Chairman Rep. Ryan Williams (R-Cookeville) debated that premise, saying that eliminating the advisory boards would essentially silence the voices of the individual institutions within the UT System.

While the House Government Operations Committee debated an amendment to eliminate the campus advisory boards, it ultimately failed.

Although there was significant debate over the UT FOCUS proposal this week, the measure progressed through both Committees.

Next week, it has been calendared for the House Finance, Ways, and Means Subcommittee and the Senate Education Committee.

Below is a comparison between the versions of the bill.

Senate Version:

  • Board size trimmed from 27 to 11 members.
  • Members of the overall UT Board will be appointed by the Governor and confirmed by a joint resolution, first by the
  • Senate and then the House of Representatives.
  • Tighter timeline for action than House amendment:  If either House fails to confirm the appointment within 90 calendar days after the General Assembly next convenes, the appointment will be terminated.
  • Appointees to the overall UT Board may be removed by a two-thirds vote by both the Senate and House of Representatives for misconduct, incapacity, or neglect of duty.
  • Each 7-member campus Advisory Board reserves one seat for a student and one seat for a faculty member.
  • Members of the campus Advisory Boards will be appointed by the UT System President, rather than the governor.

House Version:

  • Board size trimmed from 27 to 11 voting members, plus 1 non-voting student member.
  • Provides for one voting student member (the Student Trustee) and one voting faculty member on the Academic Affairs & Student Success Committee of the full Board of Trustees. The student and faculty members will rotate among the campuses.
  • Each 7-member campus Advisory Board reserves one seat for a student and one seat for a faculty member.
  • “In making appointments, the Governor shall strive to ensure the board composition includes alumni from different UT institutions.”

Both House and Senate Versions:

  • Commissioner of Agriculture to serve as ex-officio member.
  • At least 5 members of the Board of Trustees must be alumni of the University of Tennessee.
  • There will be four statutorily-created standing committees: Executive, Audit, Finance & Administration, and Academic Affairs & Student Success. Board has the discretion to create others as necessary.
  • On July 1, 2018, the existing UT Board of Trustees will vacate and the UT FOCUS Act transition will occur.
  • The Governor will strive to ensure the Board is composed of members who are diverse in sex, race, perspective, and experience.
  • Campus Advisory Boards submit recommendations to full Board of Trustees on campus-level strategic plans, operating budgets, and tuition.