NASHVILLE, Tenn. ― Chancellor John Morgan is stepping down as head of the Tennessee Board of Regents amid Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s plans to grant more autonomy to the six four-year universities in the system.
Morgan said Thursday that he had originally planned to retire when he turns 65 next year, but instead moved the date of his resignation to the end of this month over what he called the governor’s “unworkable” proposal.
Haslam surprised Morgan and many others in the state’s higher education community when he announced plans last month to re-focus the Board of Regents on the state’s 40 community and technical colleges.
The governor’s plan calls for creating local 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. Those boards would control budgets, tuition and the selection of college presidents.
The move is popular among state lawmakers who would be able to tout more local control over regional schools in their home districts. And the measure presents Haslam with the opportunity to pass a high profile measure after the last year’s crushing defeat of his Medicaid expansion proposal and current skittishness among fellow Republicans about a gas tax increase.
Morgan made no mention Haslam’s planned shakeup of the Board of Regents in his official announcement, but was more direct in a letter to Haslam first obtained by the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
“Given the announcement of plans to form separate boards for the six TBR universities, I cannot, in good conscience, continue as chancellor for another year,” Morgan wrote in the letter. “Simply put, I believe the path being proposed is the wrong one for many reasons.”
Morgan said that spinning off control over four-year schools would hurt oversight and accountability efforts.
“Throughout my long career in public service, I have observed that ambiguity is the ally of ineffectiveness and inefficiency,” Morgan said.
Haslam has touted the proposal as a way to have the Board of Regents focus more on implementing the state’s Tennessee Promise program for covering the tuition of any high school graduate to attend a two-year school
Morgan previously served as state comptroller and as chief deputy to then-Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat.
He was appointed chancellor in 2010, in a move that angered many Republicans because the board had rewritten the job qualifications to fit his education level and experience. The panel selected Morgan after only interviewing him among six applicants.
Legislative Republicans also questioned the legality of Morgan’s appointment because there were no Republicans on the board as required by law. Bredesen later moved to restore the required partisan balance to the panel, and the state’s attorney general deemed the Morgan’s appointment to be valid.
Haslam when he was running for governor in 2010 voiced support for Morgan’s appointment.