VOL. 131 | NO. 118 | Tuesday, June 14, 2016
University of Memphis Moves Toward Own Board in a Year
By Bill Dries
For decades, University of Memphis alumni and supporters have run hot and lukewarm on two topics – an on-campus arena and a board for the university independent of the Tennessee Board of Regents.
The on-campus arena call faded in the last decade as FedExForum, the city’s second 20,000-seat arena built in 15 years, was completed.
In about a year, the university will get its own board.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam made stops last week at the university and several other state universities and colleges that also get their own boards under what is called the FOCUS act.
It is a sea change in higher education statewide that leaves in place the University of Tennessee board, but shifts the Regents to govern community colleges and colleges of applied technology.
That leaves the “four-year” state colleges and universities, one being the U of M, to get their own boards, with continued state oversight from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.
At the University of Memphis June 9, Haslam held a ceremonial signing of the bill, which was approved by the Tennessee Legislature earlier this year.
State Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville called the changes “revolutionary reforms” for state higher education that “streamline” the direction colleges and universities can go in.
Haslam said the long call by Memphis boosters for an independent board wasn’t the only factor in making his proposal to state legislators. But it alerted him to an issue he wouldn’t have been aware of otherwise.
When he was interim president of the U of M in 2014, Brad Martin said an independent board wasn’t a priority for the school because the university already had more autonomy than it had in the past. That included his decision that there would be no tuition increase the year he was interim president.
Independent boards are supposed to make the institutions more flexible, and thus more attractive for partnerships with private donors.
“The reality is, any transition is a little bumpy when you change things,” Haslam said, pointing out that no one has been appointed to the university’s board, which is to be in place July 1, 2017. He will appoint the nine-member board.
“Nobody has been asked to be on the board yet,” he said.
University of Memphis president David Rudd has a task force in place already for the transition out of the Regents system.
“You go from focusing on 45 institutions to focusing on one,” Rudd said of the transition. “We’ll have a board that looks only at the University of Memphis.”
The change stirred debate because it includes a change in how the state funds higher education.
“I don’t know that the entire funding model changes,” Haslam said. “This year we were able to put additional money into higher education.”
The governor noted that in the last three years, the University of Memphis has had one year of no tuition increase and two years where the increase was less than 3 percent each year.
“Our commitment from the state is to keep funding higher education in an adequate way,” Haslam said. “What will change a little is the whole capital process. THEC is the stop for that.”