TSU President Speaks Against Part Of FOCUS Act

Posted at 10:26 PM, Mar 09, 2016

Governor Haslam's FOCUS Act was passed with strong support by the Education Committee despite loud opposition from some University officials.

It's the next step in the Governor's plan to get more than half of Tennesseans degrees in the next 10 years.

"The economic development enabler it can be by providing the six universities more autonomy," said bill sponsor Sen. Mark Norris (R, Collierville).

The Governor and many lawmakers said the FOCUS Act brings Tennessee higher education into the future, but there was one hitch.

Tennessee State University has actively opposed a major part of it.

"That's just one fundamental issue when you create an academic monopoly in the system you have to work against that," explained TSU president Dr. Glenda Glover to the Senate Education Committee Wednesday afternoon.

The bill calls for the six state universities under the state Board of Regents to split off, creating their own local boards.

That way, the board can focus on the 13 community colleges and 27 tech schools, which have grown in popularity and class size as a result of other local initiatives like TN Promise.

Most of the affected universities were excited about it, including Austin Peay, East Tennessee State, Tennessee Tech and University of Memphis.

MTSU is not taking a formal position on the matter, but staff say they are watching the legislation closely.

Gov. Bill Haslam said it will help each university more effectively and efficiently respond to its own unique needs.

Yet, TSU officials pointed out the four universities in the UT system will stay together, and staff were worried that will make for an unfair fight for resources among the rest.

"Once you pick the six off and have them independent, you keep one system to be a strong system with four universities, it's like a Bank of America against an Avenue Bank," said Dr. Glover.

Education Committee Senators listened to TSU and then passed the bill with strong support, 8-1. The Governor's plan will move forward in both the House and the Senate despite protests from one local campus.