Dump the UT system

Frank CagleFrank Talk

The University of Tennessee is looking for a new chancellor and a new system president. There has been some discussion about moving the president’s office off-campus to avoid confusion about who is in charge in Knoxville.

The last time this discussion came up, disgraced former UT president John Shumaker had suggested that as UT “system” president he should be in Nashville, close to the legislature and more centrally located for the university campuses. Knoxville leaders were outraged, and the idea was quickly squashed. The latest discussion involved relocating to the empty TVA tower above Market Square, along with the Knox County Board of Education. Acting UT president Randy Boyd took a meeting, but the idea is apparently dead for now. That’s not to say some other space might not be selected for a move.

Confusion about the UT administration has long been a problem. There was a time when UT presidents like Ed Boling and Joe Johnson were familiar names and very few people knew or cared who held the chancellor position. Then control of the UT-Knoxville athletic department, and the football coach, was shifted to the chancellor’s office. Chancellor Jimmy Cheek suddenly became a household name. If that alone hadn’t made him famous, along came Sex Week and the Office of Diversity.

There is a way to avoid confusion and tangled lines of authority on the UT campus. Eliminate the “system” and the position of system president. You do that by making UT-Chattanooga, UT-Martin, and Health Sciences in Memphis free-standing schools with their own administration and board of trustees like East Tennessee State, Tennessee Tech, Austin Peay and Tennessee State. The UT president would be president of the Knoxville campus and it would be the total focus of the office. No more plane rides to Memphis, Martin or Chattanooga. You eliminate the staff duplication of the president and the chancellor’s offices and the confusion over who is in charge.

Legend has it that the current UT system and the UT extension service scattered across the state was the brainchild of president Andy Holt. Holt was wise in the ways of Nashville and the legislature. He made sure that most every legislator had a reason to support the UT budget. The extension service provided technical assistance to farmers in every county from Memphis to Mountain City.

(It would be nice if a legislative committee held hearings asking the question of why, in this day and age, UT’s Ag campus has a presence in every county in the state, and ask what they do. Ask each extension agent if their farmer is still alive.)

The legislature used to fund the majority of UT’s budget and tuition from students the rest. Keeping legislators happy was essential. That has been flipped, and now the university depends on tuition increases and endowments, and the state portion of the budget is much smaller.

Much is made of the effort to make UT a top tier university. Wouldn’t it be more likely to achieve that goal if the president focused full attention on the Knoxville campus?

UT is now under the administration of Randy Boyd – an entrepreneur who understands lines of authority and redundancies – and he is free of campus politics. He would be the ideal person to spearhead a reorganization.

Bipartisan Tim: U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Knoxville, has joined the House at a time when it is under Democratic control, and as a minority-party member it would seem that he would have a hard time passing a bill. But when Burchett offered a bill to make TVA board decisions more transparent he had a co-sponsor – U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis. Burchett has known Cohen for a lot of years – they served in the state legislature together. With a Democratic co-sponsor on his bill, Burchett stands a chance of being successful. TVA board subcommittees, where decisions are really made, would be open to the press and the public.

Are you kidding? Is the city of Knoxville promoting assisted suicide? The city has a project planned that will include crosswalks on Chapman Highway. And a bike lane.

Atonement? Steven Tyler, front man for the rock group Aerosmith, has contributed $5 million to fund rehab centers for young girls abused and drug addicted; the latest Janie’s House is in Memphis. At an open house in Memphis last week he said God gave him the inspiration to hit the piano lick that became his hit song “Janie’s Got a Gun,” about a young girl abused by her father. Tyler is the guy who is famous for getting a mother to sign over custody of her underage daughter to Tyler so he could carry her across state lines on his tours without being arrested. After three years of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll – and an abortion – the girl returned home to her mother and Tyler disappeared. Now that he’s 70 and in a 12-step program, he is doing good works.

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