The University of Tennessee Board of Trustees took the next step in a possible acquisition of Martin Methodist College on Dec. 9, by giving its approval for UT System leaders to continue negotiations and seek necessary approvals.
“Our mission here is to provide education to the people of Tennessee and to support the state so the state can achieve its mission,” Board Chair John Compton. “The people of southern middle Tennessee deserve access to public education.”
“We’ve said all along that we want the University of Tennessee to be known for its inclusivity, not exclusivity,” UT President Randy Boyd said in remarks during the meeting. “In fact, the land grant mission calls us to serve all people of this great state. We are here to provide a ladder up to the working and middle class, to give them the opportunity for a better education, a better job and a better life.”
After lengthy discussions regarding UT’s mission as a land grant university, the lag in postsecondary attainment in the southern middle Tennessee region, unmet labor needs and the opportunities and challenges associated with the potential acquisition of the college, the trustees approved continuing the acquisition process. The approval was subject to the UT leadership reporting back to the board in January regarding specific student demographic information for southern middle Tennessee and the strategy for growing the campus; the academic disciplines where the campus can excel; the economic considerations associated with enrollment, retention and academic success; and plans for engaging stakeholders, including faculty and staff, in ongoing discussions regarding the proposed acquisition.
The Martin Methodist Board of Trustees, which also met today, unanimously approved the transaction. Approval from the Tennessee General Assembly, the regional accreditor Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, the United Methodist Church of Tennessee and the Tennessee Building Commission are required for the acquisition to proceed.
It is anticipated that the UT Board of Trustees will receive ongoing updates and final approval will be considered at a future meeting.
If the acquisition is approved, Martin Methodist would become the fourth undergraduate campus in the UT System and the first new campus since UT Chattanooga joined 50 years ago. It would be the only public four-year institution of higher education between Chattanooga and Memphis, serving a southern middle Tennessee region of 13 counties near the Alabama border.
During the discussion by the board, trustees spoke about UT’s role as a land grant institution in providing education to all Tennesseans.
Trustee Jamie Woodson said she sees opportunities to provide higher education in an underserved geographical area and provide an affordable education for students as well as an economic benefit to the region.
“I don’t know how you get to Drive to 55 if you don’t have it,” she said. Drive to 55 is the state’s program to have 55 percent of Tennesseans earn post-secondary degrees or certificates in order to meet the workforce needs of the future.
Trustee Alan Wilson agreed.
“I feel really confident in our team’s ability to grow enrollment and to provide education needed in that area,” he said.
Southern middle Tennessee is underserved by higher education. Additionally, Boyd said, thousands of students head south to Alabama, where they receive in-state tuition, for their higher education.
“Once in Alabama, many students never return, contributing to a ‘brain drain’ that impedes the region’s economic development,” he said. “We must build a firewall on our southern border to prevent the brain drain and keep our students in Tennessee.”
Trustee Donnie Smith asked Boyd to make sure that a door was built in the firewall and that the university looks to recruit students from northern Alabama.
“All those lanes going to Alabama has a lane going north too,” he said.
If the college were to become public, tuition would be expected to drop from about $25,000 a year to $10,200, Boyd said in his remarks, making attending more affordable, which would help grow enrollment at that campus.
“We are here to serve, here to serve the best interests of the people of Tennessee. As such, this is a part of our state that needs our help and we absolutely need to serve,” Boyd said. “We can change lives of thousands of young people with a dream of the future and their families that have dreams for them. We can change the future of southern middle Tennessee and we can change the future of Tennessee.”
In other business, trustees approved the:
- Appointment of Carey Whitworth as vice president of government relations and advocacy
- Reduction in UT Knoxville spring 2021 housing rates
- Revisions to the Board Policies Governing Academic Freedom, Responsibility and Tenure
The University of Tennessee is a statewide system of higher education with campuses in Knoxville, Chattanooga, Martin and Memphis; the UT Space Institute in Tullahoma; the UT Institute of Agriculture with a presence in every Tennessee county; and the statewide Institute for Public Service. The UT system manages Oak Ridge National Laboratory through its UT-Battelle partnership; enrolls about 50,000 students statewide; produces about 10,000 new graduates every year; and represents more than 400,000 alumni around the world.