Around campus, little is known about the University of Tennessee System’s Board of Trustees, even though it decides matters crucial to student life, including new Vol Core curriculum, student activity funds and yearly tuition increases. In June 2018, the state legislature restructured the board, eliminating the student trustee’s vote.
House Bill 2115 reduced the size of the board from 27 members to 11, with only one non-voting student member. Both a voting student member and a faculty member were removed, along with required representation from the nine congressional districts across the state, the four counties holding the main university system campuses and the executive member of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.
As with the previous law, the campuses rotate sending a student member, although previously, student government associations sent three nominations to the governor to be chosen from.
Section 3, A.3. allows the board to dictate the manner in which the student representative is chosen. Instead, 10 trustees are now appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state house and senate. The commissioner of agriculture serves as the ex-officio 11th member.
The new law dictates that the governor “strive” to make appointments from the counties that hold main campuses (Knox, Hamilton, Shelby and Weakly). Two are to be appointed from each grand division (East, Middle and West), five are required to be alumni and seven must be residents of the state of Tennessee.
Jennifer Donnals, a spokeswoman for former Gov. Bill Haslam justified the changes by saying, “Any governing board with 27 members can’t be operational at optimal efficiency. The goal of this proposal is to empower the smaller board composition to create a culture of collaboration and creativity, along with increased efficiencies and flexibility.”
The University of Tennessee Knoxville Faculty Senate is one group on campus which has raised strong objections. In a position paper, former president Beauvais Lyons argues, “Do not fix what is not broken.”
The changes drastically reduced student representation and their voices on decisions that heavily affect their lives and education and set a dangerous precedent for increased removal of the student voice. These decisions are now made without a single student vote, and the board is not obligated to take into consideration the student voice.
Emma Boyle is a senior majoring in political science. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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