Off campus

Tech SGA president is TBR student regent


For the second time since 2009, a Tech SGA president is serving as the Tennessee Board of Regents student regent.

Lee Gatts, a junior political science major from Livingston, was appointed in June by Gov. Bill Haslam to represent the more than 200,000 students who make up the TBR school system. He is the current SGA president and was the 2010-2011 SGA treasurer during his sophomore year.

Sean Ochsenbein served as the 2009-2010 SGA president while also serving as TBR student regent. Gatts said that he thought the odds were amazing that he and Ochsenbein would represent Tech as student regent within three years of one another.

“I believe this is just another wonderful credit to this University as an institution that strives to mold its students into goal-attaining, hardworking individuals,” Gatts said.

Gatts has been a member of SGA since his freshman. He is also a video coordinator for the Tech football team and a member of Phi Delta Theta fraternity.

Gatts said the Student Affairs office contacted him in the spring and asked if he would represent Tech by interviewing for the student regent position. He said he gladly accepted the position because he wanted to broaden his horizons and reach out to as many people as possible to help. He was the only Tech student appointed to run for the student regent position.

“I have no doubts in Lee,” Colby Paul, a senior agriculture major and SGA chief-of-staff, said. “Lee has a very unique opportunity in front of him and is constantly learning not only about our University, but the related TBR universities and management behind each.”

Gatts was one of three finalists chosen by the TBR system’s student body presidents. He was chosen as member at large, a nomination that meant he was eligible to represent students at universities and community colleges. He said he felt that it was an honor to be selected as a representative for all students.

The student regent appointment lasts for one year. The regent serves as a voting member of the board.

“The key thing when it comes to me to vote on an issue is to know the issue very early; early on before it even comes to the table for a vote,” Gatts said. “Time is of the essence and you have to do a lot of research. You have to reach out to the students it will particularly affect.”

TBR Regent Steve Copeland said he thinks Gatts will serve Tennessee college students well, although he said he feels that a year-long term can be difficult.

“It is such an enormous responsibility with so many schools involved,” Copeland said. “By the time he gets his feet on the ground, his [Gatts’] term will be nearly complete.”

Copeland said he has heard many accolades about Gatts from other board members. He also said that Gatts could play an important role in appointing the next president of Tech when President Bob Bell retires next summer.

The TBR chancellor conducts the searches for university presidents and is advised by a 14-member committee, with no more than six members coming from the board. The chancellor will recommend a candidate and the board will either accept or reject the recommendation.

The TBR was created in 1972 by the Tennessee General Assembly as the governing body of Tennessee’s universities and community colleges not included in the University of Tennessee system. The board sets policies and guidelines that govern the 45 institutions in the system, including six state universities, 13 community colleges and 26 technology centers.

The Board of Regents consists of 18 board members—12 lay citizens appointed for six-year terms by the governor, each representing the state’s nine congressional districts and three grand divisions. The other members include a faculty regent, a student regent and four ex-officio members—  the governor, the commissioner of education, the commissioner of agriculture and the executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, who is a non-voting member.

The board meets four times a year, with any additional meetings being called by the chairman as needed.

“My most important responsibility as student regent is that I need to have an excellent grasp on student opinion,” Gatts said. “You aren’t representing yourself; you’re the 200,000 plus students in Tennessee. You need to be on the same brainwave as their needs and put aside your own.”

Gatts was one of three regents appointed by Haslam and announced on Sept. 6.

The other two appointments include Linda Weeks as the faculty regent and Tom Griscom as a reappointment representing the third congressional district. Weeks is an associate professor of English at Dyersburg State Community College, while Griscom served as communications consultant to Haslam’s administration during the gubernatorial transition.

“It is a privilege to have these three citizens serve the state of Tennessee in this capacity,” Haslam said in a recent news release from the governor’s office. “They possess the skills, expertise and knowledge required to help guide the system and I appreciate their commitment and willingness to serve.”