“Never let it be said that these hearings are nothing but a demonstration of an internecine squabble among politicians and that no one cares outside of a mile from the capital. The people care. Indeed they do,” Gresham said, pointing out there are six universities and more than 200,000 students in the Board of Regents system. “There are students, families, faculty and communities caring very much and watching what we do here. And I assure you that these hearings were not called because this issue is personal, political or partisan. These hearings have been called based on the principle that the citizens of Tennessee have a reasonable expectation that their leadership, whether elected or appointed, will follow the laws that guide them.”
In response, Democrat Joe Haynes heaped praise on Morgan as a fabulous public servant and dismissed Republican complaints that the fix was in for him.
“We can always second-guess ourselves and we can always do a little 20/20 hindsight as to how something could have been handled,” he said. “I think we could have gone the world over, and we couldn’t have found anybody any better suited to be the chancellor of the Board of Regents.”
In a stretch, Haynes compared the Board of Regents to our beloved Tennessee Volunteers football team. The board members volunteer their services, so that makes them Vols too, right? Haynes implied anyone who criticizes the board might as well throw down on Derek Dooley.
“I hope and I pray that whatever transpires here today is not to embarrass any members of this board. Because this state was built on volunteerism. I happen to support a little team up in East Tennessee called the Volunteers. My blood runs orange. But it’s your volunteerism and the demonstration of that that makes our state great. And I thank you for that.”
To choose Morgan, the Bredesen-appointed Board of Regents had to abandon its practice of requiring chancellors to hold a doctorate degree. In fact, the job description seemed written with Morgan in mind, focusing on an ability to work with state leaders and on knowledge of the state's new higher education law. The search committee interviewed only Morgan shortly after the application deadline passed and hired him a week later. Because of the way the job description was written, it's hard to imagine anyone else even qualifying for the position.
At first, the board planned to pay Morgan, the former state comptroller, $385,000 — $80,000 more than retiring Chancellor Charles Manning. With public criticism mounting, Morgan asked that his salary be dropped to $305,000, still a $125,000 raise for Morgan.
The hiring has raised eyebrows in national higher education circles. In a lengthy piece, one journal — Inside Higher Ed — skeptically described Morgan's selection as the result of "a remarkable set of coincidences."
In an interview with Channel 5's Pat Nolan, then-Board of Regents vice chairman Bobby Thomas — a Democratic insider from way back — admitted that changing the job description gave Morgan "considerable edge" over other candidates.
In his testimony this afternoon, the board's new vice chairman, Greg Duckett, tried to write off this whole controversy as a failure to communicate: "Enough was not done on the front end to ensure that everyone was on the same page or as close to the same page as possible."
Board member Fran Marcum said the doctorate degree requirement was dropped, not necessarily to hand the job to Morgan, but because "we didn’t feel like we should limit ourselves. We felt we should open up the process."
"Knowing that there were other candidates, did you have any reservations about no further interviews being conducted?" Gresham asked Marcum.
"No we didn’t," she replied. "The [other] candidates did not measure up."
"Did you or anyone you know discourage anyone from applying for the position?" Sen. Bill Ketron asked.
Ketron said he's heard that some candidates withdrew because they felt it was "a done deal" that Morgan was the next chancellor. Ya think?