Oldham and Haslam host forum for campus body about FOCUS act

During the Thursday, April 14 forum in Derryberry Auditorium, President Phil Oldham answered questions from faculty and students about the FOCUS Act and how it will affect Tennessee Tech’s campus operation.

The FOCUS Act passed both the Tennessee House of Representatives and the Tennessee Senate, and is currently awaiting the governor’s signature. It will replace the current board members of the Tennessee Board of Regents with 10 state board members who will serve initial, staggered appointments of three, four and six years.

“Obviously there’s a lot of moving parts to a change like this, but fundamentally it’s pretty simple; we’re swapping one governing board for a different governing board,” said Oldham.

Gov. Bill Haslam will appoint eight of the 10 members, including nine voting members and one nonvoting. The new board will fulfill the powers previously given to TBR, including prescribing curricula and requirements for degrees, approving operating budgets and setting fiscal policies, confirming appointment of administrative personnel and other responsibilities.

The representation for each state university board will include an active faculty member to serve a two-year term and a student to serve a one-year term. A lack of faculty representation is a past issue addressed in the forum that Oldham believed will be improved by the FOCUS Act’s implementation.

The act will cause a flattening of the hierarchy in the higher education system, which Oldham claims will give Tennessee Tech an advantage in receiving benefits that have been difficult to obtain in the past.

“It’s really a positive move for Tennessee Tech and the other five universities. It gives us a lot of opportunities that we have struggled to get otherwise,” said Oldham.

Under the FOCUS Act, TBR will still maintain control of community colleges and will continue to give final approval to each university’s operating budget.

The Tennessee Higher Education Commission will take on a higher role in this process, including setting tuition ranges for all public institutions annually, providing final approval of academic programs, convening representatives from each public institution and developing a statewide master plan for higher education.

The transition period for implementation of the FOCUS Act will begin July 1, 2016, and Gov. Haslam is expected to make board member appointments in July and August.