NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Republican state lawmakers made clear Thursday that they wanted every member of the University of Tennessee board of trustees booted and don’t want any on a newly-configured board.
The state Senate Education Committee rejected four of Gov. Bill Haslam’s 10 nominees for the new board, which begins in June. A fifth nominee had previously withdrawn his name.
A past president of the school’s alumni association blamed much of it on Sex Week at the university — ongoing this week — and the perception that the old board wasn’t doing enough to get it under control.
Senate Speaker Randy McNally said the committee denied Haslam’s picks because they were current members of the board or lobbyists. McNally also touted the new boards of the state university system.
“The success of the new individual boards for our Board of Regents universities is persuasive proof a completely fresh start is the wisest course for the University of Tennessee,” McNally said in a statement. “In addition, the General Assembly has been making a concerted effort to reduce the number of lobbyists sitting on the state’s boards and commissions.”
A former president of UT’s Alumni Association said he thought the governor made some good appointments and regretted the loss of institutional memory on the board.
“I think there will be a learning curve and they’ll have to get up to speed, and they’ll make some mistakes that a more seasoned board would not have made,” Ron Kirkland said of the prospect of having a new board with all new people.
Kirkland said he believes one of the main reasons senators rejected the current members is because of Sex Week on campus, which has repeatedly drawn the ire of members of the Tennessee Republican-dominated Legislature. He said the timing of the confirmations was terrible because of the event this week and noted that publicity about it had gone far outside the state.
An opinion piece on the Fox News website calls the event “six days of XXX-rated debauchery that make Mardi Gras on Bourbon Street look like a Sunday school picnic.” Christian Evangelical Franklin Graham posted the Fox piece on his Facebook page and said it was “pushing filthy trash on young people.”
The event is billed as an “academically-informed conversation about sex” presented through innovative and entertaining events. It features panels on sex toys, oral sex and the “science of abortion,” according to the event’s website.
“I’m disappointed that it gets as much publicity as it does and I just wish we could turn off all the publicity,” Kirkland said of the event.
Lawmakers this week have grilled Haslam’s nominees about Sex Week, athletic department controversies and outsourcing.
The people rejected by the Senate Committee include Bill Evans, Brad Lampley, Sharon Pryse and Melvin Malone. Evans, Lampley and Pryse are current members of the board. Lampley and Malone are both registered lobbyists.
Raja Jubran, the current vice chair of the board of trustees, withdrew. A message seeking comment from Jubran was not immediately returned.
The governor had pushed the Legislature to pass a bill that would reconfigure the board and shrink it from 27 to 11 voting members after saying it was too large. The bill passed despite controversy over students and faculty not having voting representation and concerns that the governor would have too much power over the board. In addition to one non-voting student, the voting members will include 10 people appointed by the governor and the Commissioner of Agriculture.
Haslam submitted the 10 names earlier this week that are subject to approval by the Legislature. Five people were approved by committees.