Feb 8, 2024 - News

Legislature moves to vacate TSU board

A Tennessee State University sign on its campus

Photo: Courtesy of Tennessee State University

Tennessee State University is back in the hot seat.

  • A year after a scathing report that was fiercely critical of the university's senior leaders, Republican lawmakers are moving to remove and replace the members of its governing board.
  • A bill that would vacate the board won approval from a Senate panel Wednesday.

Why it matters: The TSU board is in the midst of choosing a new school president. Overhauling the board now would likely change who gets to make that pivotal hire and would have long-term effects on university management.

  • Current president Glenda Glover, who was on the receiving end of lawmakers' ire, plans to retire at the end of the 2023-24 academic year.

Driving the news: Following the February 2023 report from the state comptroller, which criticized TSU's approach to finances, enrollment and student housing, all parties agreed that improvements need to be made at TSU. Lawmakers previously gave the board a year to do so.

  • At a legislative hearing Wednesday, the board's vice chair said they were working to address those issues. She asked lawmakers to give them more time.
  • But some lawmakers have questioned the existing board's willingness to make meaningful changes.

What they're saying: Lt. Gov. Randy McNally told Axios he supports the "expedited reconstitution of the Tennessee State University board."

  • "It has been made abundantly clear over the past few years that Tennessee State University is in need of a reset," McNally said. "A new board and a new president working in tandem will give the university the fresh start it needs."

Zoom in: The Senate Government Operations Committee approved the bill Wednesday.

  • Support fell along party lines, with the Republican majority advancing the legislation. Republicans said the bill would not stop Gov. Bill Lee from reappointing existing board members.
  • Democrats argued that replacing the board was too harsh and could disrupt progress that is underway.

"There are real issues at TSU, I think we all agree," state Sen. Charlane Oliver (D-Nashville) said.

  • But, she said, vacating the board amounted to "reaching our hand all the way into the affairs of this university and micromanaging them."
  • She said lawmakers should wait to vote on the legislation until they could get a more comprehensive update on university improvements.

The big picture: Oliver said many of the problems at TSU were tied to historic underfunding. A federal review found TSU has been underfunded by billions of dollars.

  • "We have wronged this university," she said. "As a result of our failures, TSU's operations are in the state of affairs that they're in now."
  • Oliver said lawmakers should work hand-in-hand with the board to rectify things rather than taking punitive action.

What's next: Multiple rounds of debate and voting remain before the bill reaches Lee's desk.

  • In a statement, TSU said the measure could harm the university. Officials said they'd work to change the legislation before it gets final approval.
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