An Open Letter to the (Tennessee Tech University) Community
A lack of transparency and a pattern of unilateral decision-making at Tennessee Tech University (TTU) have created concern over the execution of fiduciary responsibility by current administrative leaders. The perception of many faculty, staff, and students is that the net effect of most initiatives has been a reduction in the quality of education, an increase in the cost of degree programs, a bypassing of the tradition of shared governance, and an unsustainable fiscal situation for the university.
Examples that illustrate these concerns are as follows:
- A risk assessment conducted by faculty in the College of Engineering suggests that the integrity and sustainability of the University’s signature college are being compromised.
- A plan to replace 650 parking spaces displaced by a new science building with 1,600 new spaces for a cost of $26 million is presented as a fait accompli without involving faculty, staff, or students.
- Dramatic pay increases for existing administrative positions and the creation of a multitude of associate vice-president positions has resulted in a more than 75 % increase in recurring administrative costs.
- In addition, administrative pay contrasts with TTU faculty, staff, and adjunct pay. Such gross disparity in pay diminishes workplace morale and undermines the morality of our common mission.
- The application of a corporate, business model requiring ‘speed, flexibility and agility’ has served as a justification by the President to ignore the practice of shared governance and established university procedures in order to make questionable hires and program development decisions.
- The appointment of a Vice-President of Research and Economic Development with an exorbitant salary (305k) that has produced few substantive results.
- The appointment of a Director of the Center for Healthcare Informatics (CHI), an apparently for-profit enterprise which seeks local corporate partners, one of whom is Cumberland Health Associates, the Executive Vice President of which is the CHI director himself.
- The appointment of an individual to head what was TTU’s Water Center who has no background in water-related issues. Staffing decisions such as at the Water Center possibly involve patronage-like practices.
- The development of an on-line Criminal Justice program—renamed “Public Safety”—that circumvented standard program development procedure and the Sociology Department where a similar degree was already offered. Those hired were adjuncts with no background in Criminal Justice. A major player in the establishing of this program is the President’s own preacher.
There are numerous other incidents of ignoring shared governance and the institutional, domain knowledge of the faculty. With the passage of the Focus Act—of which The President is a vocal supporter—the unity of the Tennessee Board of Regents is abolished and university governance is handed over to an independent board with little faculty, staff, or student representation. President Oldham has proclaimed that TTU does not want to resemble the ‘Walmart of Higher Education’. Sharp wage inequality and a lack of workplace democracy, however, indicate just such a climate. TTU should choose a culture of inclusion where all members collaborate. Otherwise we continue on the trajectory toward a corporate culture that undermines the goals of public, higher education. On behalf of concerned faculty, staff, and students at TTU, the members of TTU-AAUP have voted to release and distribute this open letter documenting these concerns. Based on our recent confidence survey and recurring items at AAUP membership meetings, we believe there is widespread campus sentiment that indicates a lack of confidence in the TTU administration, and their engagement of the faculty in decision making. We feel that there is an opportunity to re-engage the faculty and staff in the future of TTU, and the decisions that will take us there.