published Friday, August 13th, 2010

Republicans seek inquiry into Regents appointment

NASHVILLE — Two Republican lawmakers want the state Senate Education Committee to look into why the Tennessee Board of Regents changed its standards and named deputy governor and former state comptroller John Morgan, a Democrat who does not have a doctorate, as the higher-education system’s new chancellor.

Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, and Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, announced Tuesday they have asked Education Committee Chairman Delores Gresham, R-Somerville, to convene a meeting to hear testimony into Morgan’s appointment last Friday by the Regents.

The day before the Regents acted, Gresham called on members to delay the appointment and broaden the search to consider other applicants with advanced degrees and managerial experience in higher education. They didn’t and Gresham later appeared OK with that.

Morgan, the only candidate without an advanced higher education degree, was the lone person interviewed. Regents, many of whom were appointed by Morgan’s boss, Gov. Phil Bredesen, went ahead and acted with only one voting no.

In an interview, Ketron noted Regents also increased the new chancellor’s salary from the current $305,000 to $385,000.

“Lowering the standards of criteria, whether it’s him or anyone else for that position, is what I object to,” he said. “At the same time, giving an $80,000 increase in pay when we have a 9 percent spike in tuition for students ... it’s like AIG taking stimulus money and giving their executives a bonus,” Ketron said. “It just smacks of cronyism to me.”

Efforts to contact Morgan late Thursday afternoon were unsuccessful.

Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, an Education Committee member, said while lawmakers have an “important task” in providing education oversight “it certainly doesn’t mean that we should micromanage or yell if a decision does not come out the way that we would otherwise choose.”

He said “just because they hired an excellent candidate like John Morgan and not someone the legislators would want is no reason to take some drastic action now.”

Ketron said Tennessee law requires that Regents “shall be subject to confirmation by the Senate.” He noted the Senate has not acted on the appointments in recent years.

Bob Thomas, vice chairman of the State Board of Regents, declined to comment on the merits of Ketron’s and Tracy’s move.

“I will say it’s their perogative to question us about it,” he said.

He said in mid-July he attended a meeting with a group of lawmakers, including Gresham, and she “seemed satisfied with the process” at that time.

He said her letter raising concerns was not delivered until 4 p.m. the day before Regents were to vote.

Thomas said Morgan was “the best among those who applied.” The Regents chose him in large part because of his long-time work on higher education issues.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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