Publication Date

Fall 2019

Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Antony D. Norman (Director), Barbara Burch, and Gary Stewart

Degree Program

Department of Educational Administration, Leadership, and Research

Degree Type

Doctor of Education


The purpose of this single-case holistic descriptive case study was to document and describe the implementation of the FOCUS Act from the perspective of presidents and senior leaders at the Tennessee universities that transitioned from system-level governance by the Tennessee Board of Regents to governance by institutional boards of trustees. The decentralization of governance mandated by the FOCUS Act is an infrequent occurrence in higher education and presented a unique opportunity to examine how the universities prepared for the governance change and how university leaders viewed the governance change after implementation.

The central research question of this study was: What was the impact of the implementation of the FOCUS Act and the change in public university governance in Tennessee on the six public universities previously governed by the Tennessee Board of Regents? Supporting subquestions included: How did the universities prepare for and navigate the massive change from a system-level board to an institutional board? Postimplementation, how did university leaders perceive their institution’s readiness for the change at the time it occurred? What specific aspects of the governance change process did university leaders perceive to have gone well and what specific aspects presented challenges? What do university leaders perceive to be the challenges moving forward?

The university leaders who participated in this study perceived the FOCUS Act to have had a positive impact on their respective university and Tennessee’s higher education environment. One major success of the FOCUS Act identified by the leaders was the value associated with having an institutional board solely focused on one university. The leaders noted a number of challenges with the FOCUS Act implementation, most of them related to the complex nature of changing roles, processes, and culture. Moving forward, the leaders anticipate potential challenges based upon future leadership changes at the university or state level, as well as challenges related to capital projects management and funding approvals and statewide data management needs.


Educational Administration and Supervision | Higher Education | Public Affairs, Public Policy and Public Administration