To: Members of the Board of Trustees
From: John Compton, Chair of the Board
Date: September 19, 2018
Subject: Call of a Special Meeting to Consider the Chair’s Recommendation for Appointment of an Interim President
In view of Dr. Joe DiPietro’s announcement of his retirement plans earlier this week, I asked the Secretary to call a special meeting of the Board of Trustees for Tuesday, September 25, at 11:45 a.m. EDT/10:45 a.m. CDT to consider my recommendation that Randy Boyd be appointed interim president of the University of Tennessee System. This is a recommendation that I do not make lightly.
Let me first address the recommendation that we appoint an interim president instead of immediately beginning a full national search for a president. Three factors influenced this recommendation. First, Dr. DiPietro has been contemplating retirement for some time. A few weeks ago, he came to me and said he wanted to accelerate the timeline for his retirement for personal reasons. And, believe me, as someone who has commuted and been away from their family, I understand Joe’s desire to be back with his family and get settled in his new home in Illinois. Joe has been a terrific leader, and I wanted to honor his request to retire from active service in November. The second reason to appoint an interim president is that we have only been in our role for six weeks. And, while each of us may have deep knowledge about any one campus or institute, none of us has the full understanding of all campuses and institutes and the role that the system administration plays in support of the campuses and institutes. Further, only seven trustees were confirmed this spring. The new board still has three trustees to be appointed by the Governor and one student trustee to be appointed by the Executive Committee. A decision as important as appointing a president should have the full support and counsel of a full board. Finally, since our confirmation, several of us have individually been on a listening tour to hear from key stakeholders — legislators, faculty, alumni and more. Our mission as trustees is to serve our students, faculty and staff, aid the advancement of research, and support outreach efforts that improve the lives of Tennesseans.
Through those listening sessions, it became clear to me that while there is a lot of love for UT—the campuses and institutes individually and the system collectively— we do need to raise the bar and examine whether there are organizational structures that can elevate our University to even higher levels of academic success. Net, these three factors led to my recommendation of appointing an interim president and not immediately beginning a search. And, I do believe that with a fully dedicated interim president we can reach consensus on these questions and then decide next steps for a president.
Once it was clear to me that the University of Tennessee System needed an interim president, I considered options for the profile of interim president. These options will be discussed with all of you in our meeting next Tuesday. The first option would be to appoint an interim from within the university. We are fortunate to have many talented leaders, and internal leaders as interims have served us well in our past. However, given the feedback we have been hearing on the role of system administration versus the role of the campuses and institutes, it’s my recommendation that we need an outside-in perspective — someone who could objectively look at all options without any bias.
Our options for appointing an interim from outside the university were also deep and diverse. And, I wanted to make sure that we honored the feedback that we had been given relative to finding a Tennessee person to lead our University. It wasn’t long after the gubernatorial primary that a person whom I believe meets the needed qualifications walked into my office.
Randy Boyd had called me to talk about his future plans, and I had wanted to run some ideas by Randy about UT — we served together on the University of Tennessee, Knoxville Haslam College of Business Board for 10 plus years. So, we agreed to meet right away. Randy outlined his personal vision for the next 10 years — chairman of his companies, partnering with his wife Jenny on their foundation and charitable support, and forming an advocacy group to further advance higher education in Tennessee. After about 30 minutes, I knew I had to put my selling shoes on and try to convince him that serving his University as interim president would be a better use of his talents and that his personal plans may need to be tabled for 12-24 months. As usual with Randy, he put his University first and said, “Wow, that’s a great idea. I will really think about this and get back to you.”
Randy is a Tennessean who is a hugely successful business person. He is a UT alumnus who has invested in the University, personally and financially. He looks at things from a big picture perspective and lets people do their jobs. He was the architect for Governor Bill Haslam’s Drive to 55 — an ambitious but necessary goal to ensure that 55 percent of all high school graduates achieve a secondary degree. He has also helped architect the Tennessee Promise — a promise to all Tennesseans that at least a two-year community college degree could be achieved without any financial hardship. These initiatives have become a best practice that other states are starting to implement. Further, in 2014 Randy chaired the Tennessee Higher Education Commission until his appointment in December of that year as Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development. As Commissioner of ECD, he served as business development leader for the state and heard firsthand from corporations the new skills required to succeed in this ever-changing digital economy.
The University of Tennessee is more than its network of campuses and institutes across the state. We have a presence in every county across this state. During the past 18 months, Randy has visited every county at least two times, he knows the landscape, he has relationships with key stakeholders, and he understands the needs of our state. He’s a true public servant, and he will work every day to make sure The University of Tennessee System is meeting the needs of our state.
I realize you all have incredibly busy schedules. If you are unavailable to attend the September 25 meeting in person, I hope you will join us by telephone.
I welcome your input and feedback at the meeting and look forward to discussing this with you next week. Please refrain from providing your input and feedback to me or other trustees until the meeting.