KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The University of Tennessee Board of Trustees has unanimously approved the selection of Knoxville businessman and former gubernatorial candidate Randy Boyd as the university system's interim president.
Board members voted Tuesday on the recommendation that Trustees Chairman John Compton had made last week.
"It's an incredible honor," Boyd said. "I'm humbled."
University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro announced Sept. 17 he will retire Feb. 14. He will leave active service Nov. 21 and use his remaining vacation time, with Boyd taking over after that. Boyd has agreed to serve for up to 24 months or until a permanent president takes over.
Boyd is a Tennessee alumnus who lost to Bill Lee in the 2018 Republican gubernatorial primary.
Before the vote, a few speakers objected to the pick by noting Boyd's relative lack of academic experience and arguing he wouldn't be an advocate for diversity or inclusion. Several students held signs protesting Boyd's selection.
"Hiring Randy Boyd would be disastrous for UT's political climate," said Alayna Cameron, a senior at Tennessee's Knoxville campus. "We need someone who will bring us together and prioritize all students. We don't need a politician running our university."
A few more people were escorted out of the meeting after complaining they weren't allowed to speak and trying to interrupt the vote. One was cited for trying to disrupt a public meeting. Citizens were permitted to speak only if they'd submitted a request online beforehand.
United Campus Workers, a union representing employees in the state university system campuses, issued a release saying "we hope that Boyd will steer clear of his conservative, corporate impulses and the xenophobic language that characterized his gubernatorial bid."
Lang Wiseman, a member of the Board of Trustees, said the "overwhelming consensus" of feedback he'd received on Boyd was favorable.
"We've been hearing what Tennesseans have said about where they want the university to go, and two of the biggest things I've heard are that people want a Tennessean and want someone who understands the culture," said Kim White, another member of the Board of Trustees. "From that standpoint, I can think of no one better (than Boyd)."
Boyd founded Radio Systems Corp., a Knoxville company that produces invisible fences and other pet products, which has more than 700 employees and $400 million in annual revenue.
He took a yearlong leave of absence in 2013 to serve as an adviser to Gov. Bill Haslam, helping him create education initiatives such as the Tennessee Promise program for free tuition at state community colleges. In December 2014, Haslam named Boyd the next state Economic and Community Development commissioner, a post he filled until January 2017.
Boyd also was an architect of Haslam's Drive to 55 initiative, which is aimed at increasing the number of Tennesseans with a postsecondary degree or certificate to 55 percent by 2025.
Boyd responded to criticism of his relative lack of academic experience by noting that he isn't an engineer, but that he's founded a company where engineers can thrive, and that he owns three minor-league baseball teams without being able to hit a curveball.
"I think you can be a leader of people with particular skills without actually having all those skills," Boyd said. "I think in the (state university) system, there are more people without a Ph.D. than with (one). I need to be president for all the people in the system."