A plan that will decentralize control of Tennessee major universities could be a path to destruction, according to recently retired Board of Regents chancellor John Morgan.
The longtime chancellor retired abruptly after Gov. Bill Haslam introduced a plan known as FOCUS that will give power to individual universities instead of having the center of responsibility placed in the laps of the Board of Regents as has long been the case.
“It is politics over policy,” Morgan explained to McMinnville Noon Rotary Club members on Thursday as he cast an uneasy eye on the future of the higher education. “The biggest problem with the FOCUS act is that authority and responsibility need to be in the same place. My chief concern is it will damage accountability.”
The plan would give the state’s major universities autonomy over themselves and allow them to operate without oversight by the Board of Regents. This would mean, Morgan noted, they would all be independently competing for state dollars.
“This may be good for the University of Tennessee,” Morgan pointed out, adding that since the university has extension offices in almost every county, it would likely get the lion’s share of money.
However, Morgan said universities like Memphis, Tennessee Tech and Austin Peay may find issues in getting their share of the pie if they have to compete against institutions like the University of Tennessee.
“Right now, it’s like a see-saw,” Morgan said, noting the Board of Regents balances issues. The result of decentralizing high education, he pointed out, would turn things into an “eight-sided see-saw” where there would be no balance.
Morgan said the change of direction by the state is unfortunate given the gains Tennessee has made in recent years in higher education. Morgan said the state’s co-requisite policy, which allows students to undergo tutoring and other enrichment programs instead of taking uncredited remedial courses, has increased success of incoming students exponentially. He also said students are arriving at their first day of college better prepared thanks to increases in high school achievement.
As for decentralization, Morgan said he hopes he is wrong about the damage it could cause to higher education. However, he fears his forecast may be correct given the lack of accountability the change will cause.
For a longer version of Morgan’s talk to Rotary Club members, go to the multimedia video section of www.southernstandard.com. The entire talk will be aired on WCPI 91.3 FM at 5 p.m. Tuesday, 5:05 a.m. Wednesday, and 1 p.m. Thursday.