higher education

TN Tech research used in lobbying ‘eviscerated’ by some professors

“Growing faculty outrage” prompted a Tennessee Technological University internal investigation into the validity of the school research that was financed by a Tennessee company, then used by U.S. Rep. Diane Black in supporting the company’s viewpoint on federal air pollution regulations, reports The Tennessean. Tech’s president suggests the internal review may “exonerate the innocent.”

Professors have eviscerated the results of a $39,000 study commissioned by Fitzgerald Glider Kits, a Byrdstown-based trucking company that makes rebuilt diesel engines. The findings suggested those engines do not emit more harmful emissions than new engines.

The study, summarized in a June 2017 letter to U.S. Rep. Diane Black that was signed by university President Phil Oldham, was used to lobby to keep a measure that allows rebuilt diesel engines used in glider kits to be exempt from modern federal emissions rules.

The problem, as reported Thursday in The New York Times, is that the Tennessee Tech research is contradicted by an Environmental Protection Agency analysis that found emissions from glider kits are much more dangerous than emissions from new engines. (Note: The Times report also says Black got $225,000 in gubernatorial campaign contributions from donor tied to Fitzgerald. Previous post HERE.)

“This one has been called into some question, and so we’re following university policy to look into it based on concerns that have been expressed,” he said during a Thursday interview at the Cookeville campus. “Nothing has come to my attention at this point that concerns me but the fact that other people have raised concerns warrants us to take a look at it.”

But many professors, including members of the faculty senate, have demanded a more aggressive effort to distance the university from what they say is embarrassing research.

…In a letter to the head of the faculty senate, (interim College of Engineering Dean Darrell) Hoy recalled “urging (almost begging) that the Administration immediately suspend support for the project” during a Jan. 23 meeting.

“I realize this memo and the facts that I have brought to light may be a ‘professional suicide’ with regard to my position as Interim Dean,” Hoy wrote. “However, if that is what it takes to help force a more active response from the University and stop the damage to the College, I do it willingly and without hesitation.”

…Questions about conflicts of interest are compounded by the fact that Tennessee Tech and Fitzgerald announced a partnership in August that would allow the university to house a program in a company building on Fitzgerald’s property.

Fitzgerald did not respond to messages seeking a comment on the Tennessee Tech research or partnership.

Oldham said the partnership was not connected with the research project. He repeatedly defended the study and the protocol it followed during the Thursday interview.

He said the internal investigation could be an opportunity to “exonerate the innocent,” but he left open the possibility it might lead to changes.

AG finds fault with bill on in-state tuition for illegal immigrant children

Attorney General Herbert Slatery says state lawmakers, not officials at Tennessee’s public colleges and universities, must decide whether to offer in-state tuition breaks for students whose parents brought or kept them in the country illegally.

The opinion was requested by Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, and deals with HB660, a bill that would give schools the authority to make decisions.

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Former ETSU tennis coach indicted on fraud and theft charges

Press release from state comptroller’s office

The Tennessee Comptroller’s Office has released an investigation that has resulted in the indictment of Yaser Zaatini, the former Director of Tennis and coach at East Tennessee State University (ETSU). The investigation was initiated after the ETSU Department of Internal Audit reported financial discrepancies in the tennis program.

Investigators determined that from September 2011 through February 2017, Zaatini misappropriated at least $45,540 from ETSU and often provided fabricated or altered documents to the ETSU Athletics Department. Zaatini used a variety of methods to misappropriate the money. Zaatini fabricated and submitted at least 65 fraudulent student athlete per diem documents, which often appeared to contain copies of student athletes’ signatures. The student athletes told investigators that they had neither signed the documents nor received the per diem payments. Zaatini received money to which he was not entitled.

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UT fires football coach Butch Jones, now owed about $8M

The University of Tennessee-Knoxville, winless this season in Southeastern Conference football play, has fired fifth-year coach Butch Jones with two games left in the regular season.

From ESPN:

“Late [Saturday] night, it was evident this was probably the direction we needed to go for the best of all concerned,” Tennessee athletic director John Currie said Sunday at a news conference. “We wanted our student-athletes to have the best possible chance for success. We want Coach Jones and his family to be treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve.

“We want to be able to focus, from my perspective, on the search going forward.”

Defensive line coach Brady Hoke will serve as the Volunteers’ interim head coach.

On Saturday, Tennessee was blown out 50-17 at Missouri for the Vols’ fifth loss in their past six games. Two weeks ago, they lost at Kentucky, marking only their second loss to the Wildcats in the past 33 years.

…Jones’ contract runs through March 2021. His buyout is around $8 million because he is owed $2.5 million per year remaining on his deal. That buyout will be mitigated by whatever salary he might earn in a new coaching job. Jones was making $4.11 million per year at Tennessee.

Haslam: No budget retaliation against UT for outsourcing rejection; higher ed seeks $102M new funding

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday that his administration won’t retaliate against several University of Tennessee campuses that opted against his effort to privatize facilities management services at higher education institutions, reports the Associated Press.

During budget hearings, Haslam said he’s disappointed with how the process played out, but his administration won’t give less money to higher education because of choices that were left up to each campus.

… “There’s no recrimination from us, in my role as governor, anybody else’s role,” Haslam said. “We meant what we said. This was a tool to use if you found it to be to your benefit.”

The Health Science Center in Memphis is the only UT campus to opt in, but officials there only intend to have the company take over mechanical services that are already outsourced through a consortium with the University of Memphis and Southwest Tennessee Community College.

And The Tennessean has this quote from the governor on the reasons behind outsourcing rejection: “I understand they are subject to the politics of the governor’s office, legislature and campus workers’ union and all sorts of people, but great universities live in the midst of that and work past it.” 

More on the higher education budget hearing from the Times Free Press:

Beginning next fall, new graduates of the Tennessee College of Applied Technology or similar technical programs offering certificates and degrees from state community colleges will come with an eye-catching “warranty” for prospective employers.

If companies can demonstrate the graduates they hire aren’t up to snuff, “we’ll take them back and train them for free,” Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor Flora Tydings told Gov. Bill Haslam on Tuesday.

Replied Haslam: “I love the idea. … That’s accountability at its finest.”

… Meanwhile, Tennessee Higher Education Commission Executive Director Mike Krause told the governor he is asking the THEC board to approve holding tuition and fee increases between 0 and 3 percent during the 2018-2019 academic year for the University of Tennessee System, the Board of Regents and six independently governed public universities.

Haslam has made it a priority in the last three years to boost state spending for higher education, reversing a decades-long trend in Tennessee and most states where public higher education has been forced to rely on large tuition and fee increases to make up higher operational costs.

This year, the UT system is seeking a total of $25.94 million in general government dollars for its campuses, which include the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. The Board of Regents is asking for $23.84 million, while the locally governed six universities, including Tennessee Tech, are seeking $24.49 million.

The total higher ed request is $102.51 million, which includes various state-administered programs.

Three TN colleges would face new federal endowment tax under U.S. House GOP proposal

Three institutions in Tennessee – Vanderbilt University in Nashville, the University of the South at Sewanee and Rhodes College of Memphis – would see their endowments subject to a new federal tax under the tax code rewrite proposed by U.S. House Republicans last week, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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Reaction to UT outsourcing rejection: Haslam still supports concept as TSEA applauds

Press release statements following the University of Tennessee decision rejecting participation in outsourcing of facilities management services as proposed by Gov. Bill Haslam:

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UT system campuses reject Haslam’s outsourcing plan

University of Tennessee administrators announced Tuesday that they will not be participating in a proposed facilities outsourcing plan pushed by Gov. Bill Haslam, reports the News Sentinel.

The announcements by UT Chattanooga, UT Knoxville, UT Martin and the UT Health Science Center end more than two years of speculation as to whether campuses in the UT system would participate in the plan and raise questions about whether other public campuses across the state will follow suit.

The University of Tennessee-Knoxville Chancellor Beverly Davenport first announced today a decision not to participate in the proposed facilities outsourcing plan in a statement posted on a UT website.

Excerpt:

The goal of the proposed outsourcing plan was to improve efficiencies and determine what is in the best interest of our campus. We thank the state and the UT System administration for challenging us to engage in extensive cost analyses and an evaluation of our practices, which have led to cost-saving operational changes in keeping with the outsourcing goals.

My decision to opt out was based on the extensive analyses of the financial considerations, the complexity of the work done on our research-intensive campus, and our commitment to the East Tennessee economy and our workforce. It is for these reasons that I have decided outsourcing facilities management is not the best option for our campus.

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Former community college president’s ouster questioned, being reviewed by comptroller

Former Motlow State President Anthony “Tony” Kinkel is trying to restore his reputation four months after resigning from the position, reports the Murfreesboro Post, and the state comptroller is conducting a review of the proceedings that led to his ouster – including an audit that Kinkel says was unfair. But the Tennessee Board of Regents says it’s putting the matter in the past and looking ahead.

 “I’ve never seen anything like what happened here,” says Kinkel in a recent interview. “I just want my good name back.”

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Regents push hiring of 100 new ‘success coaches’

The state Board of Regents wants $7.1 million to hire 100 new student counselors – or “success coaches” — at Tennessee’s community colleges and technical centers, reports the Kingsport Times-News.

It’s the most expensive of four “priorities” for new money established at a board meeting next week, totaling $14.1 million. Those items are in addition to requests for new capital project spending – the top priority there being a $17.7 million technology building at Columbia State Community College’s Williamson County Campus.

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