GOP panel chairman wants one more hearing on Regents

GOP panel chairman wants one more hearing on Regents

October 1st, 2010 by Andy Sher in Politics State

NASHVILLE - The Republican chairman of a Senate panel that spent two days this week scrutinizing the Tennessee Board of Regents' hiring of Deputy Gov. John Morgan as chancellor says at least one more hearing is needed.

But Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, questions whether his GOP colleagues are more interested in "keeping the issue in the headlines" than moving forward.

As hearings concluded Wednesday into the Regents' hiring of Morgan, Gov. Phil Bredesen's deputy, Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, called for an additional hearing, saying she still has "grave concerns" about the process.

"It looks bad," Gresham said following the hearing. "Even after these hearings it looks bad, and I don't want Tennessee to look bad."

She said Regent Agenia Clark, who headed the board's search committee but was absent from the hearings, needs to come testify.

But in an interview later, Berke said he thinks "keeping the issue in the headlines is what they [Republican critics] are interested in."

"The Board of Regents says it wants to improve the process. I certainly want to improve the process," Berke said. "We've gone through a thorough examination of what happened."

Berke said his "goal would be to talk about what we need to do to have better oversight in the future rather than spending more taxpayer money on coming up here another day, talking about these same facts that are already on the table."

Morgan became chancellor on Thursday, succeeding Charles Manning.

During this week's hearings, public members of the Board of Regents, all Democrats appointed by Bredesen, defended their changing of background requirements for chancellor. The board eliminated a provision they first passed in 2000 requiring the chancellor to have a doctorate or law degree.

That benefited Morgan, who has only a bachelor's degree.

But Regents such as Howard Roddy of Chattanooga and Fran Marcum of Tullahoma, both of whom served on the search committee, said Morgan was best suited because of his knowledge of state government and involvement in persuade legislators to pass the Complete College Act in a special session this year.

The law pushes colleges to do a better job of graduating students and elevates the role of the 13 community colleges in the Regents' system.

The other five candidates for chancellor "just seemed to fall short of the standards," Marcum said.

In Wednesday's meeting, Republican Sens. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, and Bill Ketron, R-Murfeesboro, joined Gresham in calling for another hearing.

But Berke questioned it at the time, noting that Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, the Republican Senate speaker, had called Morgan "highly qualified" and that some other Republicans had praised him as well.

Gresham said she intended to review tapes of the hearings before making a final decision about calling an additional hearing.

Bredesen, who has said he did not encourage Regents to select Morgan, has accused Republicans of trying to turn the matter in a "political football" in the weeks leading to the Nov. 2 election, which Republicans deny.

But he also has acknowledged he had unwittingly erred by appointing only Democrats to the Regents board. State law requires at least three members of each party to be on the board.

Three Democratic Regents resigned Wednesday and Bredesen replaced them with three Republicans: Former Times Free Press publisher and executive editor Tom Griscom, Tennessee Valley Authority Senior Vice President Emily Reynolds of Nashville and Danni Varlan of Knoxville.

Contact Andy Sher at or 615-255-0550.

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