Universities changes Q&A

  1. What does it mean that the universities remain part of the System, but aren’t governed by TBR or its policies?
    A:  The FOCUS Act essentially expands the governing boards for the State University and Community College System (referred to as the Tennessee Board of Regents) from one governing board — the Board of Regents – to include six additional boards of trustees, one for each university in the system. In the state’s higher education organization structure, the six universities will remain classified within the State University and Community College System.  However, governance of the universities will shift to separate boards of trustees while the Board of Regents remains the governing body for the community colleges and colleges of applied technology that are also classified within the State University and Community College System. TBR will continue to approve operating budgets for universities and distribute funds to them; however, this review and approval is limited to ensuring each university can appropriately cover outstanding indebtedness. TBR program approval processes remain the same for TCATs and community colleges, but universities will no longer submit academic programs to the TBR board for approval. These changes will take place only after the university boards of trustees have been convened and have adopted their own policies.
  2. How quickly will the change take place?
    A:  The FOCUS Act takes effect July 1, 2016. However, until the universities' governing boards convene (expected in May/June 2017), the universities will continue to be governed by the TBR and operate under TBR policies.

  3. What does this do to our collaborative student success initiatives like the Transfer Pathways, where institutions have to align? Won’t it create greater competition among institutions and institution types?
    A:  The Tennessee Transfer Pathways were created by a separate statute as part of the Complete College Tennessee Act of 2010, so they should not be affected by the changes created with the FOCUS Act. TBR and THEC will work to continue close collaboration among institutions. The FOCUS Act includes a statement requiring the TBR to work with the university boards to ensure alignment between community colleges and state universities, especially related to innovation and student success initiatives. The Tennessee Promise scholarship creates an incentive for the universities to continue to develop smooth transitions for students to transfer.

  4. How will this change affect the benefits for those employed at the universities?
    A:  The university employees remain state higher education employees and will be provided benefits as outlined by the respective campuses. 

  5. Does this affect how the universities get funded by the state? 
    ​​A. No. The Tennessee Higher Education Commission will continue to determine the state's funding formula.

  6. Will this affect the universities' tenure process?
    A:  The bill requires that, once convened, the university's state university board "promulgate a tenure policy or policies for faculty." The bill requires that the "policy or policies shall ensure academic freedom and provide sufficient professional security to attract the best qualified faculty available for the institutions."

  7. What information are the universities sharing about the FOCUS Act?  [Added 6-16-16]
    A:  Several universities have created websites to provide information and answer questions as well. 
    Tennessee Tech University:  https://www.tntech.edu/focus
    Middle Tennessee State University:  http://mtpress.mtsu.edu/president/focus-act-information/
    Tennessee State University:  http://www.tnstate.edu/president/focus/
    University of Memphis:  http://www.memphis.edu/focusact/


  1. Will there be faculty representation on the state university board?
    A:  Yes. Each state university board will have an active faculty member who will be a voting member of the board. The faculty member will have a two-year term and will be appointed "in a manner determined by the faculty senate of the respective institution."
  2. Will there be student representation on the state university board?
    A:  Yes. Each state university board will have a student who will be a nonvoting member of the board. The student member will have a one-year term and will be appointed by the state university board.
  3. Who else will be on the state university board? 
    A:  The complete board will have 10 members (nine voting and one nonvoting). The governor will appoint eight of the 10 board members. At least six of the voting members must be Tennessee residents, and at least three of the governor's appointees must be alumni of the institution, defined as a "graduate of the institution."
  4. How long are board members' terms?
    A:  The initial appointments will be for staggered terms of three, four and six years. After the initial terms, all terms will be six years.
  5. Is the university president a member of the board?
    A:  No. The president will be a nonvoting attendee, but not a member. The state university board will select the president, as well as assess his or her performance.
  6. What are the powers of the state university boards?
    A:  The board will have extensive powers, including to:
    ​*  Select and employ chief executive officers.
    *  Confirm appointment of administrative personnel, teachers and other employees and set salaries and terms of office.
    *  Prescribe curricula and requirements for diplomas and degrees (but each board must maintain alignment across state higher education by advancing the The Tennessee Higher Education Commission state master plan).
    *  Establish "reasonable and appropriate" rules defining residency used to determine whether or not out-of-state tuition is charged.
    *  Approve operating budgets and set fiscal policies; due to bond issue matters, The Tennessee Board of Regents will have administrative roles for the budget process.
    *  Establish policies and regulations regarding campus life.
    *  Assume general responsibility for operation, delegating to the president powers and duties as necessary and appropriate.