As Gov. Bill Haslam’s Focus on College and University Success Act makes its way through the legislation process, two committees have been created to guide its development and movement.
ETSU President Brian Noland, who serves as a member of both committees, said the groups have provided guidance to the governor from the bill’s drafting stage to its current stage in the legislative process. If the bill is passed, the committees will then assist it through the implementation phase.
According to Noland, the first committee, called the steering committee, provided feedback during the drafting stage and will work to solve issues that emerge during the implementation process.
Members of Haslam’s second committee, called the working committee, must perform a little more legwork.
“The working group does the homework, the background, the research, the analysis that the steering committee has requested as they look to not only analyze the bill, analyze implications that this will have for the state, but then transition through implementation,” Noland said. “I’m active on the working group, as well as the steering committee.”
The FOCUS Act, which calls for the six state universities currently under Tennessee Board of Regents control to form their own governing boards, will shift the Board of Regents’ focus to Tennessee’s community colleges and colleges of applied technology.
As the role of the Board of Regents shifts, ETSU will be charged with forming its own Johnson City-based governance board, which will have the authority to make changes to financial and academic facets of the university without the Board of Regents’ approval or oversight.
“That change is probably among the most significant policy changes that have been proposed in the state of Tennessee in my lifetime,” Noland said.
If the legislation remains consistent, Noland said ETSU will have a 10-member governing board that will include a faculty and student representative. The other members will be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Upon passage of the bill, Noland said the responsibility of conducting his personnel evaluations and deciding his terms of employment would move from the Board of Regents to ETSU’s individual board.
“I wouldn’t be a voting member of that board,” Noland said. “That board would guide and direct the institution. And we would all work with that board, and I would work for that board.”
Noland said it’s too early to determine who will serve as faculty and student representatives, though if the bill is passed, he expects the governor to start appointing members in late 2016 and continue into early 2017.
Currently, the proposed legislation would require the faculty senate to develop criteria for the selection of its representative. The student representative, who is currently designated as non-voting, will be appointed by the governor.
“I think as we go through the next month and a half, there’s going to be a lot of call in the General Assembly for the student member to become a voting member, which I’m supportive of,” Noland said, “and then for that selection process, I would anticipate that they would look to the SGA president to potentially serve on the board, but those are details that have yet to be worked out.”
Once the board is established, Noland said students will be able to attend board meetings and voice their opinions more easily than they could to the Nashville-based Board of Regents.
“By putting governance at a local level,” Noland said, “then that provides an opportunity for everyone – students, faculty, staff – to be much more aware of and engaged in the governance of the university.”
If it is passed, Noland said the FOCUS Act will take effect on July 1.