University of Tennessee President Bill Haslam?

Victor Ashe speculates in his latest column that Bill Haslam might follow in the footsteps of Lamar Alexander in becoming president of the University of Tennessee as a first job after leaving office as governor.

Current UT President Joe DiPietro, who celebrates his 66th birthday today (Wednesday) is under no pressure to retire, Ashe says, but he recently bought a home in the Chicago area, where he has family. And when Haslam leaves office, DiPietro may be less than enthusiastic about dealing with a new governor, a new state House speaker and hostile legislators — a part of the UT president’s job.

(S)peculation is already starting as to what Haslam may do when he retires in mid-January 2019. He turns 60 in August 2018 and is in excellent health. It is unlikely he would be offered a post with President Trump given his opposition to Trump last fall, and the U.S. Senate seat held by Lamar Alexander does not open until 2020, when Alexander may seek another term anyway.

Haslam certainly has the resources and instincts to lead in philanthropy, and he would be excellent at it. He could return to Pilot Flying J, but that does not appear to be where his passion lies. He was recently asked on a local Sunday talk show by Susan Richardson Williams and Billy Stair about possibly becoming the next UT president.

He demurred on a direct response but did not reject it when asked. He questioned whether he would want to lobby the legislature for more UT funding. There is recent precedent on this when Lamar Alexander became UT president following his two terms as governor. There is no doubt that if Haslam wanted the position, the current board, every member of which he appointed, would support him overwhelmingly without debate.

Some faculty might oppose him without a competitive search, but they do not have a vote. Employees might raise issues on whether he would implement outsourcing as a new president as he advocated as governor. However, other governors have become university presidents and done well. Terry Sanford in North Carolina and David Boren in Oklahoma come to mind.

Note: The referenced TV talk show was WBIR’s “Inside Politics.” Video of Haslam’s appearance on the show can be found on the show’s website, HERE.

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