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Governor Haslam’s New UT Board Of Trustees Bill Is A Farce

UPDATE: Voting on the bill has been postponed until March 7th. As such, we’re re-upping this and getting it in front of more eyes. -Ed.

It shouldn’t surprise you to hear that a member of the Haslam family is doing something fishy and underhanded, right? Of course not. We’re here as Tennessee fans because Jimmy Haslam, CEO of Oil Rebate Hell, Also We Make C+ Coffee, decided to shove Greg Schiano down our throats. But it’s not just about football: remember when Bill Haslam, Tennessee governor, attempted to force an outsourcing bill that would have eliminated numerous University jobs for Knoxville residents down the University’s throat.

That last one is likely more important: Haslam’s attempt to serve the university with jobs he’d secured (temporarily) with a Chicago-based firm would have, per the Governor himself, saved Tennessee around $35 million. Of course, that’s not true. The cost saved by outsourcing likely would have been negligible, and it would have removed hundreds of jobs from current employees around the state. This is done because you would have paid out-of-staters less money to do said jobs (in theory).

Now that Haslam didn’t get his wish — largely because Chancellor Beverly Davenport came out strongly against it — he’s decided to help push a new bill, the FOCUS Act, in state legislature. This directly affects the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees. It sucks wind. Here’s the key points:

  1. Currently, the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees has five ex officio members (the Governor, the commissioner of education, UT’s President, and two more) and 22 additional members, at least one of which is appointed from each congressional district (there’s nine) in the state. Haslam wants to reduce this 27-person board to 11 – one ex officio member (the Commissioner of Agriculture) and ten hand-picked members with no regard to congressional district.
  2. As it stands, the Board must be constructed using two current faculty members of the University of Tennessee (any branch) and two current students. Haslam’s plan eliminates this entirely by saying no employees of any higher institution are allowed, along with eliminating students from the board.
  3. Under current law, at least nine members of the board must be a member of the minority party in the state (currently, the Democrats) and nine members (they can overlap) must be alumni of the University of Tennessee. The bill proposes to eliminate the first half and extend the alumni portion to five of the 10 additional members.
  4. The board is required to have at least one 60+ year old (for age diversity) and one person of color (for racial diversity). Haslam’s plan eliminates both.
  5. MOST IMPORTANT: As it stands, the Board of Trustees has the power to remove a University Chancellor or President at any time they have the votes to do so. Haslam’s plan removes the Board’s ability to do either.

This, quite frankly, is mortifying. Under this proposed plan, Haslam blows up the current Board of Trustees and appoints ten members of his choosing, with no regards to political party, diversity, location, etc. This isn’t the part I care about, because I understand probably 60-70% of people reading this are Republicans who have varying opinions on the last name Haslam. That’s fine! I generally don’t hold opinions on Trustees members in the first place. Here’s why this matters: Bill Haslam is setting up a road map where he, or his proxy, can become University of Tennessee President in 2019 with zero serious opposition, because the Board of Trustees that makes the hire will be ten of his best friends.

If you’re sick of the Haslam family’s relentless control over the University of Tennessee, you should be furious about this. It doesn’t matter if you’re a football fan or not, really: the Haslam family has had a stranglehold on the University of Tennessee for at least a decade and perhaps longer. During that time, the University has floundered both in PR and in academics despite announcing numerous failed attempts to become a Top 25 university. Sports, which drives money, have sucked. It’s been proven that the Haslams have been the centerpiece of several key failed decisions over the last decade. Why would you want them to make more?

The best thing anyone can do right now, other than loudly and ferociously voicing their opposition, is to simply ensure people know what this is. I highly doubt that more than 5% of readers came into this having even heard of the FOCUS Act beyond some CliffNotes local news coverage. This is very dangerous, and raising public awareness may be the only thing that can be done, because almost no part of this represents a positive outcome for anyone with a University tie.

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