Tenn. Lawmaker Seeks to Curtail Internal School Issues

NASHVILLE ― An objective by Tennessee State University’s new president to tackle internal issues at the historically Black university may present an opportunity for legislation that could benefit other educational institutions, a Democratic lawmaker says.

The Tennessee Board of Regents on Tuesday unanimously approved Glenda Baskin Glover, who takes over a university that has been plagued with internal problems, including a lack of cohesion among its leadership.

Earlier this year, a vocal faculty member who opposed university leadership was taken away from a campus meeting in handcuffs.

Sen. Reginald Tate of Memphis said he’s considering legislation that would require some type of evaluation of colleges or universities where there are reports of internal disputes to “review the structure and hierarchy” of the institutions. Tate said he wants to prevent turmoil that could detract from the main goal of educating students.

“We need a mechanism that can say to the universities that if you get too close to that kind of framework, you are subject to an evaluation,” he said. “We’re into the education business, we’re not into hierarchy.”

Tate sat on a Senate Higher Education Subcommittee that held a hearing earlier this year to address allegations that TSU officials changed more than 100 students’ grades of “incomplete” for two introductory-level courses into letter grades without instructors’ permission.

State Board of Regents officials told the panel there were mistakes made and that there was a lack of communication, but they said an internal audit found no wrongdoing by university administrators.

However, during the subcommittee hearing, one of the faculty members who made the allegations said she voiced her concerns outside the school because she didn’t think they would be addressed by university administrators. Another faculty member said he was simply “afraid.”

Jane Davis, an English professor, was one of the faculty members who made the grade fixing allegations and was the person who was later arrested by campus police on a charge of disorderly conduct.

Davis was an outspoken critic of policies and decisions made by then-TSU Interim President Portia Shields, who came to the university in early 2011 to make reforms for the school to gain a necessary full accreditation.

An online poll was taken of the university’s faculty members and 60 percent of those who responded said Davis should be removed as the chair of the faculty senate and 59 percent said they wanted the executive council to go with her, according to The Tennessean.

Davis said she attended a meeting that Shields was attending to discuss the results of the survey, but TSU spokesman Rick Delahaya said Davis “became extremely disruptive and would not allow the meeting to proceed.” She was then arrested.

Glover told The Associated Press this week that she couldn’t comment specifically on the arrest and grade fixing accusations, but she believes creating a sense of unity on the campus, as well as better “communication and disclosure” can resolve many issues.

“Those are areas that I’m going to enforce and ensure that take place on campus,” Glover said.

Tate said he’s not singling out TSU, but contends his legislation also seeks to address “good ol’ boy” networks at educational institutions that prevent new employees from advancing or being productive. He said he may even expand the measure to include high schools.

“To me, that’s hindering the progress of education,” he said. “When the new person comes in, they can’t get anything done because they’re still dealing with that internal mechanism.”