State senators have rejected nearly half of Bill Haslam's nominees to the University of Tennessee's Board of Trustees, dealing a surprise blow to the governor.
A Senate panel voted down three nominees who are serving on the university's current board, as well as a fourth candidate because he's a lobbyist. A fifth person also withdrew from consideration.
That leaves just five of Haslam's 10 nominees progressing through the legislature toward a final vote. Senate Speaker Randy McNally says lawmakers wanted to make sure leadership goes in a new direction.
"It dealt mainly with a desire to start anew — with a fresh board — that didn't have some of the problems that the previous boards have had," McNally says, citing the controversies over UT Knoxville's annual Sex Week events, a recent appearance on campus by a neo-Nazi group and the tumultuous firing of the school's athletic director.
The three current board members who are rejected are Knoxville financial services executive Sharon Pryse, former St. Jude chief executive William Evans and Nashville attorney Brad Lampley. The fourth nominee rejected for working as a lobbyist was Franklin attorney Melvin Malone. (Lampley also works as a lobbyist.)
The Senate Education Committee also officially turned down the nomination of Raja Jubran, chief executive of Denark Construction. The Nashville Post reports Jubran asked on Wednesday to be withdrawn from consideration.
The nominations of former Pepsico president John Compton, ESPN basketball analyst Kara Lawson, former Tyson Foods CEO Donnie Smith, Chattanooga nonprofit executive Kim White and Autozone chief executive William Rhodes remain on track.
A spokeswoman for Haslam says he's disappointed by the decision to reject some of his nominees but continues to believe the board reorganization will be worthwhile.
"He congratulates the exceptional individuals approved by the legislative committees this week and is hopeful full Senate and House confirmation will take place in the coming days," spokeswoman Jennifer Donnals wrote in a prepared statement. "The governor would also like to thank the nominees who have given outstanding service to the University of Tennessee throughout their time as students, alumni and in their service on the Board of Trustees."
The rejections were a surprising reversal for the Haslam administration. Just last week, legislators voted to dissolve UT’s current board at the end of June and replace it with one largely chosen by the governor. The move came after years of complaints from conservatives about the direction of UT.
But some fretted they were giving the governor too much power to shape the new board.
Their decision to reject some of his picks leaves Haslam with the power to recruit five new candidates who can be given recess appointments. But they're guaranteed seats on the board only until next year's legislative session, at which point lawmakers could vote on whether to keep them.