Inside Lines on the UT Prez Search

Speaking of the UT presidential search, the five finalists all have some sort of tie to the university, either as a graduate or having worked there. There is even a state legislator on the list.

Looming large in the minds of UT supporters is the Board of Regents hiring of John Morgan as its chancellor. Morgan, with years of service working with the Legislature as state comptroller and then as deputy governor, is expected to be a formidable advocate for the non-UT college campuses.

Some insiders say the nod will go to Dr. Joseph DiPietro, chancellor of the Institute of Agriculture at UT. DiPietro heads the UT extension effort, with offices throughout the state in every legislative district, and thus could be able to marshal statewide support for UT's budget. DiPietro came to UT from the University of Florida, where he was dean of the vet school and his boss was vice president for agriculture Dr. Jimmy Cheek. Cheek is now the chancellor of the UT-Knoxville campus. If DiPietro gets the job, he and Cheek will have swapped places in the pecking order.

An academic from out of state might have a disadvantage going up against Morgan when the Legislature divides up the higher education pie during tough economic times. Finalist state Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, would be a popular choice in the Legislature, even among Republican colleagues, as a known quantity.

The last three UT presidents have been asked to leave for one reason or another, many of those reasons embarrassing. Legislators (and Gov. Phil Bredesen) have warned the trustees that another miscue would be disastrous.