On Oct. 23, 2016, the East Tennessean reported that Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam had announced the eight appointees to ETSU’s new governing board, the Board of Trustees. Since then, some have expressed concerns of a lack of diversity in the board members.
The eight members are Janet Ayers, Steven DeCarlo, David Golden, Dorothy Grisham, Dr. Linda Latimer, Scott Niswonger, Jim Powell, and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey. While each of these persons has achieved success in their industry, not many of them have experience in governing educational institutions.
This is concerning. A university cannot be run like a business, with a for-profit motive. In fact, there are many issues that the new Board should address that have little to do with finances. Issues such as ETSU’s dry campus policy, tailgating rules at the new stadium, and other aspects of life on campus that the Tennessee Board of Regents had authority over will be passed on to the Trustees.
Are these business leaders ready to take on these challenges? Hopefully.
The selected board members also are not a representation of the diversity of ETSU’s students. Only three of the board members are female, but over half of ETSU’s student body is female. The board members are also predominantly white, which may not have been the best choice. Without honest representation of all groups that are present on campus, it will be harder for the board to understand the concerns and ideals of everyone.
However, the Board of Trustees has a better chance of understanding and working with members of the campus community than TBR did. The Trustees will be able to focus on ETSU and respond in a way that is only in ETSU’s best interest. Because TBR was in charge of many universities, community colleges, and technical schools in the state, it had to make rulings that considered all of these institutions, despite the disparate needs of these schools.
There is hope that with its focus on just our university, the new Trustees will have the time and motivation to listen to ETSU students, staff and faculty that reach out to them with concerns. After years of TBR control, the new governing board does seem like an improvement if only because it moves the power down a level, closer to our university.