- Associated Press - Thursday, June 9, 2016

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - In a move that will transform higher education in Tennessee, Gov. Bill Haslam signed a bill that overhauls the governing boards of some of the state’s universities.

The Tennesseans reports (http://tnne.ws/1XIcQmo ) that Haslam signed the FOCUS Act, a law that creates new boards for Austin Peay in Clarksville, East Tennessee in Johnson City, Middle Tennessee in Murfreesboro, Tennessee Tech in Cookeville, Tennessee State in Nashville and the University of Memphis. The University of Tennessee system is not affected.

Haslam will get to appoint eight of the 10 board members for each school. Those boards will oversee tuition, hiring and firing of university presidents and set the agenda for each school.

The governor said he is currently selecting board members and expects to announce appointments later this year and get confirmation of them from the General Assembly in 2017.

“This is a historic day,” Haslam told an audience at Tennessee Tech on Wednesday after signing the bill. “We’re here today to launch this movement to let great universities like Tennessee Tech have their own leadership and initiative focused on achieving the full potential of that university.”

The schools that will get new boards were previously part of the Board of Regents. The Board of Regents will continue to oversee the state’s 13 community colleges and 27 technical colleges.

Tennessee Tech President Philip Oldham praised Haslam for overhauling the governing boards, saying it “basically cuts out one layer” of bureaucracy that existed under the Board of Regents. He said his school will be able to make needed changes more quickly under the new law.

However, the plan does have its critics, including TSU President Glenda Glover, who has raised concerns that each school spun off from the Board of Regents will be alone and forced to compete with the large University of Tennessee system for state resources.

Haslam and other officials have said there will be checks in place to make sure the six schools don’t find themselves facing lopsided competition from the UT system.

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Information from: The Tennessean, http://www.tennessean.com

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