Boyd is tapped as interim UT leader

Randy Boyd, a Knoxville businessman, philanthropist and former Republican candidate for governor, has been tapped to lead the University of Tennessee following the retirement of the college system’s outgoing president.

The UT Board of Trustees will meet next week to consider hiring Boyd as interim president. The plan, proposed by the board chair and touted as a “win” by the governor, calls for Boyd to serve for one or two years. Boyd’s work could pave the way for major changes to the college system that includes the state’s flagship campus in Knoxville as well as institutions in Memphis, Chattanooga and Martin.

“The board’s intention will be for him to come in and take a holistic view about where we are and where we want to be, and then to help us define the organizational structure to make that happen,” John Compton, the newly elected board chairman, said in an interview.

August, said he had already heard from campus-level officials who mentioned friction between the system office and individual campuses. Addressing that tension will likely be one of Boyd’s top priorities.

“While there is a lot of love for UT, it is time to raise the bar and examine whether there are other organizational structures that we should consider so that we can elevate our university to even higher levels of success,” Compton said.

Compton did not comment on specific changes that might be in store for the system, saying only that the board was open to “new ideas.” Boyd was the ideal choice to lead a review and develop those ideas, Compton said.

Boyd tweeted that he’s “truly honored and humbled to have the opportunity to serve my alma mater, University of Tennessee, and our great state.”

“If selected, looking forward to listening and learning about how we can accelerate the positive momentum across all of our campuses and throughout the UT system!”

Haslam says Boyd a ‘win’ for UT

Gov. Bill Haslam and Compton discussed the issue before the announcement.

In an interview, Haslam said hiring Boyd would be a “net win” for the state.

Boyd earned a reputation as a change agent while working in Haslam’s administration — he shaped Tennessee Promise, the governor’s signature higher education program that offers every high school graduate the chance to attend community or technical college tuition- free.

Boyd also served as the state’s economic development chief and traveled to each of Tennessee’s 95 counties this year during an unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination for governor.

Compton said that experience made Boyd his top candidate to lead UT into a new era.

“I just don’t think there’s a better choice,” Compton said. “We’re lucky that he’s available at this point of time to consider this.”

If he is selected, Compton said, Boyd has said he would not take a salary for his work.

Boyd approached after primary loss

Compton said he began talking with Boyd after his loss in the Aug. 2 gubernatorial primary. Boyd was seen as an early front-runner for the Republican nomination, but came in second with 24 percent of the vote, 13 points behind winner Bill Lee.

The GOP primary was the most expensive campaign to date in Tennessee, and featured an onslaught of negative ads, particularly between Boyd and rival candidate U.S. Rep. Diane Black.

Boyd, 58, became a millionaire after founding $400 million company Radio Systems Corp. He spent more than $21 million on his campaign, including millions of his own money.

Compton initially called Boyd to gauge his thoughts as a prominent UT graduate and big-ticket donor. But as Boyd began to sketch his vision for higher education in Tennessee, Compton said, he became a front-runner to replace UT President Joe DiPietro, who planned to retire at some point in the next year.

DiPietro fast-tracked those plans Monday, announcing his last day would be Nov. 21.

DiPietro served as president for eight tumultuous years that saw tremendous growth in enrollment, construction and achievement metrics matched by upheaval in the national economy, General Assembly and campus administrations.

Compton said replacing DiPietro with an interim made sense given a series of power shifts across the state.

Haslam pushed for a new, smaller board to guide the UT system — and lawmakers have only signed off on seven members so far, with three spots still vacant. And a new governor and dozens of new lawmakers will start work in 2019.

“I think the board is wise in deciding that interim is the right path at this point,” Haslam said in the interview. “It would be difficult to select a … president who’s going to serve for multiple years at this point.”

Haslam is hopeful Boyd’s experience on the campaign trail could mend some frayed relationships in the statehouse. The General Assembly has sparred with UT in recent years, at one point ripping funding from the flagship campus budget after a pair of online posts about Christmas parties and gender pronouns.

“The obvious answer is more communication will help,” Haslam said. “That’s where I think the whole experience of campaigning is very helpful.”

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by Adam Tamburin

The East Tennessee Economic Development Agency markets and recruits business for the 15 counties in the greater Knoxville-Oak Ridge region of East Tennessee. Visit


Published September 20, 2018