Controversial UT board of trustees overhaul plan clears Tennessee House

Governor Bill Haslam speaks during a press conference to unveil plans to build the new five-seat Atlas in Chattanooga at the Volkswagen Conference Center on Monday, March 19, 2018 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

NASHVILLE - The state House on Thursday approved Gov. Bill Haslam's controversial plan to dismantle the existing University of Tennessee system's board of trustees, reduce its size and appoint new members.

The bill, known as the UT FOCUS Act, narrowly passed on a 51-41 vote, with 50 votes needed. It now goes back to the Senate because it was amended.

Proponents argued the change from a 27-member board of trustees to a 12-member structure, which includes a non-voting student trustee, will result in a more engaged and active board. The student and a faculty member will have a vote on the student affairs committee.

But critics questioned Haslam's true motivations in pushing the changes, and communities with UT institutions, like Chattanooga, voiced concerns about adequate representation.

Assistant Majority Leader David Hawk, Greeneville, who carried the bill, told the House that "we are going to create a world-class board of trustees to continue to take [the UT system] to its next heights," later trying to answer critics by noting his daughter will be attending UT-Knoxville.