The appointment of Randy Boyd as interim UT president has caught many, including United Campus Workers, by surprise. Boyd, an acolyte of our soon-to-be former Gov. Bill Haslam, recently lost a bid for governor. Before that he was known for his company, Radio Systems, and for his stumping for the appropriately lauded higher education access initiatives, tnAchieves and its successor, TN Promise. His appointment as the head of the UT system after such experience (and little to none in higher education administration) has left UCW and many others wary. We hope that Boyd will steer clear of his conservative, corporate impulses and the xenophobic language that characterized his gubernatorial bid.
Randy Boyd’s lack of experience working directly on a university or college campus of any size may be considered a strength by the UT Board of Trustees but seems less so to UCW. As staff and faculty who have devoted years of service to the university, we are concerned with the apparent lack of trust in those who know campus best. Importing ideas and cultural mores from the private sector may be the menu du jour, but it can have terrible consequences when they are willy-nilly pushed onto the public sector. The notion of facilities outsourcing, sensibly put to bed this past year, is one such idea. The attack on the notion of tenure because it does not exist in the private sector, is another. These “common sense” (non) solutions are part of the mistaken belief that a public university should be run like — or by — a business. It’s clear from his wealth that Boyd can run a business, but it’s less clear that he can promote scholarship and create a campus climate welcoming to all students, staff, and faculty.
Although he was praised as “unbiased” by UT Board of Trustees chair John Compton, it remains to be seen whether Boyd will move past the talk about “illegal immigrants” and “conservative businessman” to the job of actually leading the six campuses of the UT system in creating an inclusive, welcoming university where all can learn. Will we get candidate-Boyd or will we get the Boyd that pushed the Drive to 55 program? How will President Boyd deal with the Travel Ban and its terrible effects on our international faculty and students’ lives and careers after praising Trump on the campaign trail? Will President Boyd support institutions like the Pride Center and vital (and on hold) diversity initiatives? These are questions that need answers. The university community has many challenges to face in overcoming systemic discrimination. We are concerned that the will may not be there in Boyd to lead that work.
It remains to be seen what Randy Boyd will do as interim president, or how long he’ll actually serve. We know that a search committee for a new president is something likely on the agenda of the UT Board and upper administration, and as now, United Campus Workers will take acute interest in this process and in the results. For now, we’ll welcome Boyd in the same kind of spirit we hope he will practice while on campus.
Josh Smyser, Senior Postal Clerk, University Mail Services; VP, United Campus Workers-CWA Local 3865
Sarah Eldridge, Associate Professor, Modern Foreign Languages; VP, UTK Chapter of United Campus Workers-CWA Local 3865
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