[The following essay was published in the UTK Faculty Senate Newsletter in November, 1999. It was a contribution to a symposium on University governance. See also the symposium essays by Robert A. Levy and M. Mark Miller.]

A Governing Board View
by Roger W. Dickson
Miller & Martin, Chattanooga
Member, UT Board of Trustees

When Bob Glenn asked me to contribute an article to the UTK Faculty and Senate Newsletter on a Board Member's perspective of governance at the University of Tennessee, I had several reasons why I should not accept this invitation. However, after some thought, I accepted the invitation, because it would give me an opportunity to reflect upon my eight plus years of service on the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees. During those eight years, I have formed certain opinions on governance and on the role of higher education. The views and opinions expressed on these matters are mine alone, and I do not attempt to speak on behalf of all members of the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees.

Prior to discussing governance at the University of Tennessee, the recent report from the Governor's Council on Excellence in Higher Education focused attention on governance of higher education in the State of Tennessee as a whole. The authors of the Council's Report opined that a more centralized governing board for higher education in the State of Tennessee may be a more efficient and effective method of governance. I disagree. The University of Tennessee's 1999 Budget is in excess of one billion dollars. Our Board oversees five campuses and more than forty-two thousand students. It is extremely difficult to make knowledgeable decisions on matters involving numbers of this magnitude. I do not believe that any board could competently handle its responsibilities if those numbers were increased to include over 190,000 students spread over thirty campuses.

From the perspective of the University of Tennessee's Board of Trustees, governance starts with one principle--the Board has the ultimate responsibility to set policies to ensure the academic integrity and financial well being of the University of Tennessee. This obligation rests solely with the Board and should not be delegated.

In discharging this responsibility, the Board must avoid the temptation of micromanaging the administration, class room teaching, research, or other endeavors of the University. As a Board, we need to be advised and informed by the Administration as to all matters involving the University. We should also counsel with and listen to the faculty and the students of the University in order to understand their perspective on various issues. After receiving this input, it is our job to set policies pursuant to which the University of Tennessee will operate.

In establishing these policies, we should be mindful that although a University has many characteristics of a business enterprise, it also has many basic and inherent differences from a business. This concept is sometimes very difficult for the Board to appreciate, because, for the most part, we are more comfortable dealing in a business environment than in an academic environment. We must recognize and understand that the University of Tennessee does not operate with a profit motive and at times the process of teaching, learning, and research is at least as important as the product that those endeavors produce.

Today there is a great emphasis being placed on "accountability." In higher education this can mean attempting to measure student learning outcomes. I am not sure there is a method by which we can definitively measure these outcomes or to measure how we are doing as a University. Education at the university level is not meant to merely train students for the job market. Rather, a university's role is to provide students with an education that encompasses a great deal more than job training. As the Board of Trustees of the University of Tennessee, we have the obligation and authority to determine the mission of the University. We should make sure that the chief mission of the University of Tennessee is to enrich the lives of all students who pass through our campuses. If, after attending the University of Tennessee, a student's life has not been enriched and that student's view of the world and his or her place in it has not been broadened, then the University and its Board have not done their jobs.

There are many challenges facing the University of Tennessee in the future, not the least of which is dealing with the rapid increase of information technology and how that technology will impact the University. I believe the Administration, the Faculty, and the student body should all be engaged with the Board in making policy decisions which ensure that this improved technology is used as an asset to enhance the quality of education at the University. If we allow education at the University of Tennessee to become a process whereby students sit at terminals while being fed information through their computers, we will have failed in our responsibility. The process of higher education entails a great deal more than merely receiving information. The information that is received is often soon forgotten; however, the impact a university has on our perspective should last a lifetime.

I believe that the University of Tennessee is poised to become one of the greatest institutions of higher education in the world in the next millennium. However, this cannot be accomplished without solid leadership and a united effort from the Board of Trustees, the University Administration, the Faculty, the students, and our elected officials. As our new President, Dr. Wade Gilley has stated, to have a great state, you must have a great university. Our goal as a Board should be to make certain the policies of the University promote excellence in teaching, learning, and research so as to allow the University of Tennessee to reach its full potential of being that great University.

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