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Businessman recommended as University of Tennessee president

September 20, 2018

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The chairman of the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees announced Wednesday that he is recommending former gubernatorial candidate Randy Boyd to serve as the university system’s interim president.

University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro announced Monday he will retire effective Feb. 14. He will leave active service Nov. 21 to use his remaining vacation time.

Trustees Chairman John Compton recommended that Boyd serve as interim president for up to 24 months or until a permanent president takes over. A university release announcing Compton’s recommendation said that Boyd has declined to be paid a salary if he is appointed.

The Board of Trustees will meet Tuesday in Knoxville to consider Compton’s recommendation.

At a Wednesday news conference, Compton said he’s recommending an interim president because DiPietro is stepping down a little earlier than expected and the current Board of Trustees is new and incomplete. Seven trustees have been selected for a board that will eventually include 10 members.

“It is wise to take a pause, to take 12 to 24 months, and objectively think about the future of the University of Tennessee and the organizational requirements to enable that future,” Compton said.

Compton said he didn’t want to select someone who’s already working on a Tennessee campus or within the state university system to avoid any potential biases.

Boyd is a Tennessee alumnus who lost to Bill Lee last month in the Republican gubernatorial primary. Compton said Boyd spoke to him after the primary to discuss future plans for his business, his family foundation and his advocacy of higher education.

“As I was listening to Randy, I thought to myself, ‘I’m staring at the next person who should be recommended for the interim president role at the University of Tennessee,’” Compton said.

Compton didn’t rule out the possibility of Boyd becoming a permanent president but said that would have happen through a national search. Compton said he and Boyd haven’t discussed whether Boyd might have any interest in taking the role permanently.

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

Compton said he’s known Boyd for about 20 years and noted that they worked together on the board of Tennessee’s Haslam School of Business for more than 10 years.

Boyd founded Radio Systems Corp., a Knoxville company that produces invisible fences and other pet products, which has more than 700 employees and $400 million in annual revenue.

He took a yearlong leave of absence in 2013 to serve as an adviser to Gov. Bill Haslam, helping him create education initiatives such as the Tennessee Promise program for free tuition at state community colleges. In December 2014, Haslam named Boyd the next state Economic and Community Development commissioner, a post he filled until January 2017.

Compton also noted Boyd’s role as an architect in Haslam’s Drive to 55 initiative, which is aimed at increasing the number of Tennesseans with a postsecondary degree or certificate to 55 percent by 2025.

Although Compton said Haslam was a “sounding board” in this decision, Compton noted that he brought the idea to the governor rather than the governor recommending it to him.

Compton also dismissed speculation that the Boyd selection had anything to do with connections to the rest of the Haslam family, which includes Pilot Corp. founder Jim Haslam and Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam.

“At no point along the way since I’ve been chair of the Board of Trustees have I emailed, texted, phone called or met in the mall with Jim Haslam or Jimmy Haslam,” Compton said. “The only Haslam I have talked to is Bill Haslam, not because he’s a Haslam but because he’s the governor and the governor needs a voice in the presidency of the University of Tennessee.”

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