At the end of January I posted here about a legislative attempts to defund diversity staff and programming in the University of Tennessee system. Unfortunately, the attack on diversity is just one of a number of pending bills that are very bad for higher education in the state of Tennessee. Here are four more bills, including one (HB2559) that will completely politicize the appointment of the Board of Trustees.
- SB2515 fixes tuition and fees at all UT campuses at their current rate until 2021. I know that many will see this as a welcome relief. But mind you, state support has collapsed in recent years. TN is still better than some, in that the legislature appropriates $474 million, or 23% of the $2 billion budget of the university (counting both restricted and unrestricted education and general funds). Looking at just unrestricted E&G revenues, totaling around $1.2 billion, state appropriations now constitute 38 percent of the budget. At the end of the last century, state appropriations accounted for 66 percent of unrestricted E&G revenues. So, while the state continues to reduce its appropriations in real dollars, legislators want to freeze tuition with no plan for making up the differences.
2. HB1736 introduces the first stage of handgun carry on campus, permitting employees with handgun permits to carry on the job. If you’ve ever spent any time around faculty meetings, you’ll know why this is a bad idea.
3. SB1762 changes the language around the Board of Trustees hiring and firing of the President of the UT System, and of the campus chancellors. The new language states that the BOT shall hire a Chief Executive Officer of the system who shall also be the president, and that based on his/her recommendations, shall also hire Chief Executive Officers of the campuses. This shift in language will be consequential in empowering administrative authority. Nowhere else in the Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 49 is such explicitly business terminology used.
4. HB2559, worst of all, would reformulate the BOT. Currently the Governor appoints the BOT, as well as members specified from the faculty and the student body. This bill would give the head of the state Senate, the head of the House, and the Governor’s office each 5 seats to appoint on the Board. This will undoubtedly undo the fiduciary role of the BOT, and turn it into the worst kind of politically driven body. This will enable the undoing of the university. I would imagine that the Governor would veto a bill that takes away executive privilege. But, who knows if there would be enough votes to override.