Planned Breakup in Tennessee
Alisa White, president of Austin Peay State University, is quite happy with the existing structure that governs Tennessee's regional public universities and community colleges.
John Morgan, chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents system, is an advocate for her university; the 18-member Board of Regents is knowledgeable on issues of higher education; and the system itself, she says, is full of creative thinkers who have helped Tennessee push the envelope when it comes to education policy.
Yet White and many of the presidents at the five other four-year universities within the system think, despite all of the board's accomplishments, its governance structure would be improved if Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s plan to create individual governing boards for the system's universities -- allowing the board to focus solely on the 27 technical colleges and 13 community colleges in the system -- goes forward.
The plan, announced in early December, is still being developed and drafted into legislation (which will be called the Focus on College and University Success Act), but the pending legislation appears to have the support of many of the state’s lawmakers and education advocates. It would not affect the University of Tennessee System, which already has a governing structure separate from the TBR system.
But Morgan, one of the state’s most respected higher education officials, is skeptical of Haslam’s plan, so much so that he is retiring a year early because he says he cannot support the proposed governance change. Separating the universities from the system “is unworkable and will seriously impair the critical alignment of the state’s needs, the TBR’s oversight responsibility and each institution’s accountability,” he wrote in a sharply worded resignation letter to the governor last week.
An overhaul might encourage institutions to put their own interests ahead of the state, “drive competition” among institutions and “shift priorities away from the state’s goals.” He will resign at the end of January.