Wednesday, January 5, 2011
2011 Will Bring New Challenges and Opportunities for Tennessee
2011 will bring new challenges and opportunities for many. All too often, the challenges are emphasized and the opportunities are minimized when we view circumstances through old lenses. Past missteps should be revisited only to learn from them while embracing the future with a positive attitude. Many have expressed concerns about what is next for Black folks with several new leadership roles all beginning at the same time; a new Governor, a new Chancellor for the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) and an Interim President for Tennessee State University (TSU). All of the new leaders will have a profound effect on Tennessee, especially the state's community of color.
Governor Bill Haslam has to govern all of Tennessee not just the folks that voted for him. By all assessments, Haslam ran a good campaign with very little competition. This past election cycle, the Democrats placated the fringe elements of voters and alienated their base. At the same time, Black folks played crazy and did not even show up to the polls to vote. Out of habit, color folks have often elected Democrats that are afraid to deal with them, let alone shake hands without sanitizer in their pockets. Those days are vaporizing. More voters are voting their interests and not party lines. To Haslam’s credit, he did not repeat psycho talking points from Arizona and feed into the dread and doom headlines that shaped many campaigns across the country. Most Tennessee voting Blacks voted for Haslam. (Quit pretending like folks did not). Governor Haslam was a successful businessman prior to public office. There is a natural assumption that he will run the state like a business. Haslam stated often on the campaign trail that he would make a “thousand small cuts” to the state’s budget while overhauling the state’s procurement process and wasteful spending. This should give more Black and Hispanic entrepreneurs opportunities to do business with the state. The previous administration embraced trips to China to do business overseas but had a hard time paying an invoice to a business owner on Jefferson Street five blocks from the state capitol. Folks need to get over their fear of a Republican Governor and visit the newly renovated Governor’s mansion that the Democrats left behind. Governor Haslam will shake your hands. Hopefully, his appointments as Governor will be as diverse as his Knoxville’s administration.
TBR, Tennessee's higher education governing body, new Chancellor, John Morgan, came to office with mess and mayhem in tow. He is a gift from Bredesen and he is not going anywhere anytime soon. Behind closed doors, many admit that the hiring process WAS ugly but Morgan knows what Morgan knows. It may be challenging to overlook how he got the job but with new found wisdom to the games that were played under Chancellor Manning’s leadership, Morgan appears determined to tackle higher education deficiencies that need attention desperately. Hearings and headlines have educated folks about the role of TBR and Mr. Morgan must be willing to offensively engage the public about our colleges and universities. At the state senate's education committee hearings, several Regents stated their role on the board was to show up to a few meetings a few times a year. Mr. Morgan may need more heart and soul from the Regents. A lot more. TBR is one of our most powerful boards in the state that is responsible for billions of dollars as well as thousands of students’ educational endeavors. That responsibility should not be taken lightly. After Tennessee won half a billion dollars in Race to the Top Funds, critical lenses have now turn to review how Tennessee educate students. All of our students, at every school. Everyone must invest in efforts to make education one of our top priorities in our state. Those investments will pay off by attracting more commerce to Tennessee because of a highly trained and educated workforce. College graduation rates are declining statewide not just at one or two schools. TBR should use private school marketing skills to promote Tennessee public higher education schools. TBR can no longer be viewed as a political appointment door mat. Regents attending college graduations would be a small effort to show that TBR is a partner not an enemy in educating students. Mr. Morgan is not only a new administrator for TBR but the new Cheerleader-in-Chief for higher education in Tennessee.
One of those schools he must cheer for is my boys' beloved Tennessee State University. TSU’s new interim President, Dr. Portia Shields, has her work cut out for her. The school is accredited but was denied reaffirmation. In 12 months, TSU must resubmit ongoing compliance and institutional effectiveness to SACSCOC. All the foolish diversions during the last few years have distracted the school from doing its main job, educating students. The students should be the focus and purpose. Recruiting the best and the brightest to attend and graduate from TSU and giving those who would not be given an opportunity elsewhere, the chance to get an education should be front and center. No matter who is at the helm at TSU, everyone need to be reminded that students are the beginning and the end of the road. Madame President is now leading the students. The TSU community needs to support that mission without distractions and commotions.
Sometimes, Nashville's social groups, clubs, and church folks can hinder leaders with a specific mission. In Nashville, social groups can take a simple assignment to help others and turn it into happy hour. Little ladies in clubs colors can behave as if they are the Crips and Bloods. And church folks will pull voodoo dolls out of their purses if you do not agree with them while quoting scripture. (Only speaking truth folks). Dr. Shields represents an opportunity to bring fresh thinking to the business of educating our students while honoring TSU's heritage of excellence in education. The focus should be what is best for the students who want to be educated at TSU. Governor Haslam, Chancellor Morgan, and the TSU community are all stake holders in the success of TSU educating students now and in the future. Let us look for ways to emphasize the excellent opportunities before us and begin 2011 with a new pair of lenses.