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MTSU trustees approve Byrnes as provost, pursue state building funds

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Mark Byrnes, left, was approved as university provost during the MTSU Board of Trustees' quarterly meeting held Tuesday, Sept. 12, in the Student Union Ballroom. Byrnes, an MTSU alumnus and former dean of the College of Liberal Arts, had served as interim provost since May 2016. (MTSU photo by Andy Heidt)

Middle Tennessee State University's Board of Trustees on Tuesday (Sept. 12) confirmed the appointment of Mark Byrnes as the institution's provost and chief academic officer.

Also, trustees learned that MTSU's incoming freshman class has set new records for average high school GPA and ACT scores, reflecting the university's concerted efforts to focus on the recruitment of high-ability students.

Trustees also approved two building projects for submission to the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, which ranks requests from the state's universities for future state funding. The university's first priority is a new academic classroom building, followed by a new mechatronics engineering building.

In announcing the new provost, Trustee Pam Wright, chairwoman of the Academic Affairs, Student Life and Athletics Committee, said President Sidney A. McPhee cited Byrnes' years of service to MTSU as a professor and administrator in recommending him as provost.

"Provost Byrnes is an exceptional and talented educator and administrator," McPhee said after Tuesday's meeting. "His years of devoted service to MTSU will give him great and unique perspective as we move our institution forward."

McPhee said while the university has yet to report final enrollment numbers, "our preliminary reports look very promising," including:

• The average high school GPA for the Fall 2017 freshman class stands at a record high 3.6 GPA. The average freshman GPA for the prior three classes has been 3.42.

• The ACT average score for the Fall 2017 freshman class stands at a record high 22.62, which is above the national ACT average of 21, and above the Tennessee state average of 19.8.

• New freshmen are up 3.84 percent; new transfers are up 4.82 percent; new graduate students are up 7.64 percent; and dual-enrollments (high school students taking MTSU classes) are up 54.35 percent.

Regarding the proposed mechatronics building, the board approved a motion by Trustee Joey Jacobs, on behalf of the Finance and Personnel Committee, to add the project to its submission to the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC). Jacobs said adding the $54 million request was deemed prudent because of projected student enrollment growth in MTSU's engineering technology programs.

Meanwhile, the new academic classroom building, which would be used primarily by the College of Behavioral and Health Sciences, was No. 3 on last year's THEC priority list for projects within the Tennessee Board of Regents system, which governed MTSU until earlier this year.

Byrnes, who was praised by trustees before they confirmed McPhee's decision, said he was honored to serve his alma mater as its chief academic officer.

"I appreciate the confidence placed in me by President McPhee and the Board, and I will continue to support the excellent work of our faculty," he said.

Interim provost since May 2016, Byrnes graduated from Riverdale High School before completing a B.S. in political science from MTSU in 1983.

He went on to earn a diploma in international and comparative politics from the London School of Economics as well as a master's degree and Ph.D. in political science from Vanderbilt University.

A specialist in American government and politics, he joined the MTSU Department of Political Science in 1991. He is a nationally recognized expert on the presidency and has published books on NASA, President James K. Polk and Tennessee politics.

Byrnes previously served as dean of the College of Liberal Arts, which includes more than 300 full-time faculty members and nearly 60 full-time staff, from 2010 until his appointment as interim provost.

Byrnes served on the Rutherford County Board of Education from 2004 to 2012. During that time, he served as chairman for four years and vice chairman for three.

In other business, trustees:

• Learned the university has signed a memorandum of understanding with the city of Murfreesboro that will allow MTSU and city police departments to increase mutual aid and cooperation;

• Approved a policy that outlines how it will select, evaluate and retain the university president, including a process for an annual performance evaluation;

• Heard a report by the Academic Affairs, Student Life and Athletics Committee, which noted that the university is considering new degrees, including a B.S. in Tourism and Hospitality Management; M.S. in Teaching English as Second Language; M.S. in Physician Assistant Studies; and a B.S. in Media and Entertainment;

• Recognized the career of Rick Insell, women's basketball head coach, for his career achievements and recent induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame;

• Heard a report by THEC Executive Director Mike Krause that said MTSU was the most efficient in budget management among the state's universities, advancing more students for less state money per graduate.

All Board of Trustees meetings, which are held in the Student Union Building, are open to the public. For agenda details or other information, go to www.mtsu.edu/boardoftrustees/meetings.

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