higher education

After troubles at three community colleges, TBR chief plans better evaluations of campus presidents

The head of the state Board of Regents says she plans to change how the leaders of community colleges are evaluated, reports WPLN. This follows the recent resignation of two community college presidents under fire and harsh faculty criticism of a third. Tennessee has 13 community colleges.

In February, the faculty senate at Northeast State Community College passed a no-confidence vote in their president, who retired a few months later. Then, the president at Motlow State resigned after faculty accused him of creating a culture of distrust and fear. The president of Nashville State met similar accusations in a report obtained by the Tennessean.

The woman who oversees all 13 of Tennessee’s community college presidents is Flora Tydings, who was a college president herself until leaving for the position of TBR chancellor. She says any leader who’s not performing well brings down the whole system.

“Everybody needs to be held accountable for the job that they’re doing. My goal is to make sure that that’s happening,” she told WPLN. “I intend to be a little bit more involved with presidential evaluations and making sure that we’re staying on top of that.”

Historically, college presidents in Tennessee are evaluated every year. The most recent permanent chancellor of TBR, John Morgan, says he would review them mostly on their college’s academic performance, based on outcomes prioritized by the state, and on their fundraising.

This method doesn’t necessarily factor in things like interpersonal problems that stayed on the campus level, Morgan says. He suggests one way to address this: gathering input on the president from the community.

“I didn’t do that,” he says. “Could have. Probably should have, looking back on it.”

Tydings doesn’t have specifics yet on what her new review process will look like, although she has assigned an assistant to draft a proposal in the coming months. Her office says one possibility is to maintain annual reviews but add a more thorough evaluation every few years.

TN leads nation in students seeking federal aid for attending college (73% of high school grads)

News release from the governor’s office

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced the state has set a new record and for the third year in a row has led the nation in the number of students filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Nearly three quarters of all Tennessee high school seniors—73.5 percent—filed the FAFSA for the 2017-18 academic year, a requirement for Tennessee students to be eligible for both federal and state aid, including Tennessee Promise and the HOPE Lottery Scholarship.

The FAFSA filing rate is important because it is a key indicator of the number of students planning to enroll in postsecondary education as the state pursues the Drive to 55, which aims to have 55 percent of Tennesseans with a postsecondary degree or certificate by 2025.

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Prosecutor waits for comptroller audit of alleged ETSU racquet allegations

An East Tennessee State University internal audit has found that Yaser Zaatini, who resigned as tennis coach in March,  was involved in $106,000 worth of misdeeds and may have committed the crimes of theft, forgery and misconduct. But Washington County District Attorney is waiting for an audit by the state comptroller’s office before presenting the matter to a grand jury, reports the Johnson City Press.

 In his letter to ETSU President Brian Noland, obtained through a Tennessee Open Records request filed after his resignation was announced, Zaatini wrote “In conjunction with my resignation, I waive all annual leave accruals and have executed the enclosed promissory note promising to pay the university $31,293.13 consistent therewith. 

“In connection with this resignation I make no admission of malfeasance.”

…ETSU Board of Trustees member David Golden, head of the body’s Audit Committee, said the hall of fame coach was engaged in a “fairly sophisticated” scheme to falsify student-athletes’ signatures on meal expenditure forms and print phony receipts for restringing tennis racquets to be reimbursed for the costs. 

Tracing suspect transactions as far back as 2010, the university’s audit team estimated $85,674.61 in questionable expenses related to meal expenses, racquet stringing, registration fees and other expenditures. Auditors also tallied $20,747.63 in unreported annual leave they called into question. 

Even with the ETSU internal audit, Clark said if there were any charges, the state comptroller’s office would be the prosecuting agency, so he wanted to wait for that report before proceeding to the grand jury.

…“We want to make sure we have everything there might be before we move forward,” he said.

TN independent college president backs away from Trump administration job

Claude Pressnell, president of the Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association, has withdrawn from consideration for  the job of assistant secretary for postsecondary education in the U.S. Department of Education, according to Inside Higher Education.

It’s the second time in recent weeks that a candidate for a high-profile role at the department has said “no thanks” to the department deep in the vetting process. And it underscores the slow progress since January in making key political hires to round out Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s team.

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Motlow State president resigns in latest TN community college controversy

Motlow State Community College President Tony Kinkel resigned late Tuesday, a day before the completion of a blistering internal audit that accused him of using “fear, intimidation, hostility and condescension” as mainstays of his leadership, reports The Tennessean.

It’s the third case in recent months of a Tennessee community college president becoming mired in controversy. The other two cases involved Nashville State Community College and Northeast State. (Recent post on Nashville State HERE; on Northeast State, HERE.)

The audit, performed by the Tennessee Board of Regents and completed Wednesday, described a dismal work environment that pushed several longtime employees to leave the college because of Kinkel.

Auditors said that, as their work neared completion, Kinkel pressured multiple employees to discredit the findings in an apparent attempt to save his job.

“The manipulation of both people and information has created a sense of distrust among faculty and administrators that is deep,” the audit read. “The pressure placed on employees to do things they consider inappropriate or to take on unreasonable workloads is attributable to employees’ fear of retribution and of being labeled as not being a team player.”

Complaints logged throughout Kinkel’s tenure of less than two years triggered the audit. Additional allegations “regarding the President’s management of the College, integrity, treatment of employees, and handling of personnel matters” were logged while the auditors worked on the project this year.

…Kinkel defended his record and categorically denied multiple allegations in the audit, particularly that he had tried to interfere with its findings.

“None of us were given a chance to provide another point of view to these opinions expressed,” he said. “We never had a chance to even provide the truth.”

Northeast State Community College president quits after ‘no confidence’ vote, secret meeting

Embattled Northeast State Community College President Janice Gilliam announced in a letter to Tennessee Board of Regents officials that she is retiring effective June 30, reports the Kingsport Times-News.

TBR Chancellor Flora Tydings said she has accepted the retirement and plans to appoint TBR Executive Vice Chancellor James King to serve as interim president of Northeast until a national search for a permanent successor can be conducted.

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A clash of polling perspectives on in-state tuition for children of illegal immigrants

The results of a Tennessee Star poll on support for granting in-state tuition rates to children of illegal immigrants living in Tennessee are strikingly different from results from a similar Vanderbilt University poll on the subject.

Tennessee Star’s results, reported Thursday, are that 84 percent of the “likely Republican primary voters” surveyed are opposed while only 13 percent support the notion. The Vanderbilt poll, reported May 30, found 66 percent of registered voters favor the idea while just 30 percent oppose.

One difference, of course, is the Star only asked  declared Republicans while Vanderbilt covered all registered voters. But the Vandy poll found support for the proposal, which has failed on close votes in the General Assembly for the past two year, widespread despite party alignment. Among those identifying themselves as Republicans, Vanderbilt reported 55 percent support (Democrats 87 percent; independents 66 percent).

Which leads to the thought that the responses may have had something to do with the way the question was phrased.

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Faculty claims ‘hostility, intimidation and retaliation’ at Nashville State Community College

Start of an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Nashville State Community College maintains such an oppressive climate for its faculty members that it sought to monitor and interfere with efforts to ask them about it, according to a report commissioned by the Tennessee Board of Regents.

Nashville State’s executives sought to surreptitiously identify which faculty members were being confidentially interviewed by investigators from Middle Tennessee State University. Several administrators, including George H. Van Allen, the college’s president, improperly sought to get access to — and interfere in the distribution of — an online survey intended solely for faculty members, the investigators’ report says.

A large share of the college’s faculty members complained of “hostility, intimidation, and retaliation” by the college’s executive leaders, and spoke of working in an atmosphere where “trust is low and fear is high,” the report says. Most, it adds, “view the trend for this negative climate as continuing to spiral downward.”

In an interview with The Tennessean President Van Allen defended his record and described his critics as a “strong minority” of faculty members. He said he had tried to get access to the survey because he was concerned about its security.

Note: For more, see the extensive Tennessean story, HERE.

New TN ‘Campus Free Speech’ law praised as ‘most comprehensive ‘ in the nation

The Tennessee version of a “Campus Free Speech” bill, signed into law earlier this month by the governor after approval by lopsided margins in the legislature, is getting some national media attention – most recently in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s roundup of similar legislation across the nation.

It starts like this:

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Haslam lauds legislature for passing latest free tuition expansion

News release from the governor’s office

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today thanked the General Assembly for its partnership in making Tennessee the first state in the nation to offer all citizens – both high school graduates and adults – the chance to earn a postsecondary degree or certificate free of tuition and fees and at no cost to taxpayers.

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