Correct choice, right time
The proverbial statement from the Book of Ecclesiastes,” To everything there is a season,” always circles back to remind us of its wisdom.
Such is the case with the recent action taken by the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR). Last month, the TBR tapped John Morgan, the state’s current deputy governor, as chancellor of the nation’s sixth largest system of higher education.
Both the time and the person were right.
Public higher education in Tennessee is facing a future fraught with serious issues. The greatest challenge lately has been in attempting to balance the public’s unquenchable desire for better education with the available, but dwindling financial resources. Those demands have been assuaged primarily through increases in student tuition fees.
Those who have either worked or been involved in the state’s public higher education first felt the tremors of trouble nearly a decade ago when income from tuition fees exceeded the Tennessee General Assembly’s allocated appropriation. The gap has continued to widen since that time.
Earlier this year, Governor Phil Bredesen and the General Assembly convened a special legislative session aimed specifically at addressing the issues facing education in the Volunteer State. A significant change was made in public higher education when the group collectively determined that emphasis should shift from funding based on enrollment to funding based on results (graduation success).
What better time for the TBR to make strategic changes than right now? In selecting a chancellor with a profoundly different background, the Board has chosen a person of integrity and wisdom with outstanding leadership skills. John Morgan “grew up” in state government, under the tutelage one of Tennessee’s most respected and talented public servants, the late State Comptroller Bill Snodgrass, whose name now adorns state government’s tallest office building.
Morgan, who succeeded the esteemed Snodgrass as state comptroller, has provided wise and sound counsel to the state and the state legislature in a reserved, thoughtful, bi-partisan manner for many years. As deputy governor, Morgan was the chief architect of the education plan adopted during the special session. Not surprisingly, that plan has led to a $500 million federal grant, setting Tennessee apart as a newly minted, national-leader in innovation.
Many readers will recall the appointment of former State Senator Tommy Garland, a republican from Greeneville, as TBR chancellor in 1985. The selection of that adept and admired legislator was also viewed, at the time, as a “non-traditional” choice. Yet, Garland acquitted himself with aplomb during the five years in which he held the post.
Yes, always “….. there is a season…” And, in my view and in the opinion of many others throughout the state, this is the season which called for the correct man at the right time. John Morgan is an inspired, enlightened choice to lead six universities, 13 community colleges and 26 technology centers into the tumultuous decade which awaits. If we’re smart, we’ll allow him to begin the job without further distraction.