Six public universities who had been part of the Tennessee Board of Regents are holding their first independent board meetings over the next few weeks.
It marks a major change in the way decisions at the schools are made. When the president of Tennessee Tech University, Philip Oldham, opened its inaugural board meeting on Thursday, he called it "truly a historic occasion."
The first items on the agenda were less than notable — the board passed its own bylaws unanimously — but the brand new trustees will have the power to shape the university. Before, if Tennessee Tech wanted to start a new degree program or raise tuition, it had to get approval from the Tennessee Board of Regents, which oversaw 46 schools in total. Now, it can make those decisions itself.
Still, it will only have so much power. For example, any tuition change has to fall within a range that the state decides. Any new program has to be reviewed by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission to make sure it fits into the state’s master plan.
Gov. Bill Haslam alluded to this inherent tension when he stopped by Tennessee Tech's first board meeting.
"There will be moments when you might be frustrated with the state … because we do want to make certain we’re thinking about higher education from the whole state’s perspective," he said.
He said the board will have to be innovative, while still working as a team with other schools in Tennessee.