Increased Investment Urged For Higher Education (490)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn.– State government must increase its investment in public higher education, University of Tennessee President Joe Johnson told the UT Board of Trustees Thursday.

 UT has gone six years with basically no increase in operating appropriations because the state has had other funding priorities, often court-mandated, such as education K-12, corrrections and health care, Johnson said.

 “It’s time for an investment to be made in higher education,” Johnson said, adding that the Governor’s Council for Excellence in Higher Education has the potential to guide state government in that direction.

 “I’m all for keeping crooks off the streets, but the money invested in prisons does not do return very much to the people of Tennessee.

 “It doesn’t help in producing engineers, lawyers, trucking company owners and people who work in the hospitals. We do that. We create ideas, we conduct research, we help the economy.”

 Later in the meeting the board approved student fee increases for next fiscal year of 6 to 10 percent and a $996.5 million budget.

 UT Executive Vice President Eli Fly said the university would keep its reputation as a “best buy” in higher education even after the fee increases.

 “Being a best buy is based not only on costs, but also on quality,” Fly said.

 Fees beginning this fall for in-state undergraduates will total $1,288 for a semester at UT-Knoxville, $1,120 at UT Martin and $1,100 at UT-Chattanooga.

 The fees represent an increase of $78 per semester at UT-Knoxville, $113 at UT Martin and $68 at UT-Chattanooga.

 Johnson said the fee increases would add $7.4 million in revenues, partially offsetting the loss next year of $15.6 million in state appropriations.

 In other action, the board joined Johnson in recommending a review of faculty tenure at UT campuses. The review will be conducted by a committee which will include representatives of the board, faculty and students.

 Johnson said that while he supports faculty tenure, questions raised about it will not go away.

 “It’s a nationwide concern that perhaps tenure has been used to protect some things it was never intended to protect,” Johnson said. “We need to know how it is working. It may need some adjustment. It may need some tinkering.”

 The committee will review tenure and report back with recommendations to the board in no more than a year, he said.

 Johnson also said he would appoint another committee to review managment options for the UT Medical Center, including spinning-off the hospital to form a not-for-profit corporation.

 “We could also decide to do nothing, but given the changes that are occurring, it is important to look at it,” Johnson said.

 Authorization to make the hospital a not-for-profit corporation was given to the board by the Tennessee General Assembly.

 As a not-for-profit, the hospital could borrow money for working capital, enter into purchasing agreements with other hospitals, and speed the approval process required to construct buildings or offices.

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 Contact: Dr. Joseph E. Johnson (423-974-2241)