Q&A: Get to know the MTSU Board of Trustees


Photo courtesy of MTSU News

On a cloudy December afternoon near the end of the semester, the 10 trustees, who guide major policy decisions at MTSU, met inside the Student Union Building for their fourth board meeting of the semester.

It was the year’s final quarterly meeting for MTSU’s Board of Trustees, one that MTSU President Sidney McPhee said was marked by “a lot of work.”

The meeting lasted less than an hour, but Board Chairman Stephen Smith summed up the efforts each trustee had made over the year.

“Many hours of work have gone into what appears to be a short board meeting,” Smith said.

In its ninth month of existence, the Board of Trustees is the first of its kind for MTSU. It is a testing ground that lays the framework for future boards and a mark of independence for the university, which was formerly governed by the statewide Tennessee Board of Regents.

The positions were made available under the provisions of the Focus on College and University Success Act, signed into law by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.

Each trustee, nominated for the position by Haslam, traces back to MTSU in some way. Eight of the trustees attended school at the university years ago, and the two who didn’t study there have connections with MTSU through their Middle Tennessee businesses.

Such is the case for Trustee Chris Karbowiak, a Chicago transplant who today stands as the executive vice president for Bridgestone Americas. MTSU is a place where Bridgestone employees can receive leadership training through the Jennings A. Jones College of Business.

And, for Trustee Pete DeLay, a Sewanee graduate, the Concrete Industry Management program at MTSU has been a valuable resource during his years in the concrete industry.

Almost all the trustees were selected, in part, due to the years of entrepreneurship under their belts. But two of the 10 were selected because of their intimate relationships with MTSU.

Student Trustee Lindsey Weaver, an MTSU alumna and former Student Government Association President, provides a student perspective on the board. While Weaver doesn’t have a vote on the board, she attends meetings just like the rest of the trustees.

The faculty trustee, Tony Johnston, is perhaps the most jocular of the group. Johnston, a professor in the School of Agribusiness and Agriscience, was elected by the faculty senate to serve on the board in addition to his nomination by Haslam.

According to the most recent numbers, more than 22,000 students attended MTSU in some capacity last fall. The board must shoulder the burden of making financial decisions that affect thousands of students. It has the power to approve tuition increases, alter policies that affect student life and set graduation requirements, among other duties.

Numerous times during the semester, the trustees gather in McPhee’s conference room to hammer out university policies. They show up in the morning and stay through the afternoon, clad in formal business attire.

The meetings move quickly, which is a mark of the characters who run them. Everyone is on a tight schedule. The board is not their only responsibility.

There is a lot to get done, but the trustees are acquainted with their fellow board members. They drink coffee in the morning, eat lunch together and crack jokes throughout the day. Some carpool from Nashville.

DeLay showed up to committee meetings on Nov. 29, sporting a tie covered in blue elephants. Trustee J.B. Baker showed up in tie decorated in a rafter of turkeys. He is a passionate pheasant hunter.

Each trustee has his or her own quirks. Collectively, the group is business-oriented, with the common goal of aligning the university on a path of success. Read below to learn more about MTSU’s Trustees. 

Tell me why you decided to get involved with the Board of Trustees.

Tony Johnston: “As a faculty member, I appreciate the fact that I have an opportunity to serve in this capacity because I have a faculty perspective. Second, I realize that all of us have degrees. All of us have gone to college. But not all of us have ever been on the … inside of a university. Attending as a student … is different from being a member of the faculty or a member of the administration in that institution. So, it’s my responsibility … to bring that perspective to the board.”

Chris Karbowiak: “I’ve been the window for the Bridgestone America’s relationship with the university. I think that’s how the governor determined that. There’s someone who knows something about the university, (has) a strong, positive relationship, and that’s I think how the selection process was made.”

Pamela Wright: “I have had some past involvement with the university and leadership roles, (and) I love the university. Having been here, it’s very, very important to me. As a business person in the Middle Tennessee community, I have such strong feelings about how important the university is to the community and how it impacts the community in a major economic way. And so, being on the board gave me an opportunity to enhance that interest.”

Joey Jacobs: “I’m from Warren County, Tennessee. I graduated from MTSU in 1975. So, (I am) an alumnus of the university. I have been blessed that when I left school, I joined a company called Hospital Corporation of America. I spent 21 years there, and then I’ve built two companies since then and have been active with MTSU as I became successful. I gave back to the university because I believe it laid the groundwork for me to be successful. So, I became very active here at MTSU.”

What music do you listen to?

Chris Karbowiak: “I have a Sirius XM subscription in my car, and so I bounce between and among outlaw country, Broadway and ‘60s.”

Tony Johnston: “My musical tastes are quite eclectic, I have to admit. I like everything from jazz to bluegrass. I’ve got a lot of hard rock … I’m going to say this, and it’s going to really date me: I still have an iPod. I don’t put music on my phone. A couple years ago, I took my son to see The Who, because I always wanted to hear them, and we had a great, great time.”

Darrell Freeman: “Ed Sheeran.”

Pete DeLay: “Really, I like a lot of different genres of music. I listen to a lot of oldies, ‘50s, ‘60s kind of stuff, (and) I like different kinds of country music. I listen to a lot of old Motown music. I love that. We used to listen to a lot of that while I was in college.”

Lindsey Weaver: “I am all over the place with music, but I am a fan of Twenty One Pilots. My husband works for them as their videographer/LED tech. (I also like) Carrie Underwood and Imagine Dragons.”

J.B. Baker: “I go through all kinds of everything, from motivation to life’s measure. (I) just put down ‘Beam Me Up, Scotty.’” 

Pamela Wright: “I’m from Nashville. I love country music. And, we go to the symphony. I say ‘we’ because me and my husband usually go to music venues together. We like all kinds of music, but I love country music. I go to the CMA Fest most years. So, I spend four days watching and listening to country music.”

Stephen Smith: “Charlie Daniels is one of our university heroes, and it’s fun listening to him with the knowledge of his intense patriotism. Our Veterans Center is proudly named for Mr. Daniels, too.”

Joey Jacobs: “I can listen to any type of music. I am more of a ‘Top 20’ kind of guy, but I like country music because I grew up here in Tennessee. I like it all. Really, I like it all. I will go back and listen to the ‘70s on XM, but I find a lot of the younger generation now knows the artists of the ‘70s.”

What is the policy goal or purpose you have been pursuing as a trustee?

Joey Jacobs: “I want every student to get an education, and when they get their diploma, they have a great chance of getting the job they wanted. …  I think many times, universities graduate students really have a slim chance of getting good employment, and that’s wrong. We should be turning out students with degrees that are in demand.”

Darrell Freeman: “I think the initial activity for me is to make sure that we understand as a Board of Trustees what our roles are versus what the role of the administration is … It’s very crucial for us to understand that we’re here to set policy and direction and not be a part of the day-to-day activities. I think that’s going to be a huge benefit to the university if we can get that done right.”

Pete DeLay: “I hope every one of y’all, when you get out of school, are able to get a job, a job in your field that will help you be successful in life. I think it’s a tremendous challenge when, given the increasing cost of higher education, students get out of school with an enormous amount of debt, and they’re not able to make a living. I think our school is successful if you’re able to get an education and then provide for yourselves when you get out.”

Lindsey Weaver: “What I’m hoping to do this year is set a good example and set the foundation for what the student trustee is responsible for and how they can take lead in this role and set the example for future trustees in this role.”

What do you do in your free time?

Pamela Wright: “I was in the travel business, but I sold it two years ago. … Now I’m mainly doing pleasure travels. That’s what I’m doing in my free time. (My husband and I) go to Mexico a lot. We like Port of Vallarta, but probably my favorite place is when we visit Italy a couple of times a year.”

Stephen Smith: “We raise Tennessee Walking Horses, and I love hunting and fishing with friends and, most of all, with my two sons and bride.”

Joey Jacobs: “I have a grandchild, and I have a farm in Warren County. We go back on the weekends, and I have cows and tractors and stuff like that. I try to get out of the stress of technology and running a business and being on the board of MTSU. I like to go back to the country and be on the farm. I grew up there. I have so many fond memories that I want to share with my kids and my grandchildren.”

Darrell Freeman: “You’ll probably catch me running or preparing for an ‘Ironman’ event, or piloting my airplane. I’ve done about 20 marathons.”

Pete DeLay: “I like to work. I like to exercise. I love sports. I like to read … The older I get, the more I enjoy learning. What I just finished reading was Allen Isaacson’s book about Leonardo Da Vinci. What I’m reading this very minute is Sen. Ben Sasse’s book. The title of it is called ‘The Vanishing of the American Adult’ … I’m a big Warren Buffett fan because he’s a great thinker.”

Tony Johnston: “With the new fermentation science degree program, that has pretty much become my hobby. I promote that program everywhere, all the time, constantly. I’m constantly looking for an angle that I can attract someone else into the program.”

J.B. Baker: “I love bird hunting. We have a weekend home in Monteagle, Tennessee, that’s in the woods … I’m also chairman of the Middle Tennessee Boy Scouts, and so with all that combined, (there are) no complaints.”

What are some memories you have of MTSU?

Darrell Freeman: “I was the first person in my family to go to college, and MTSU provided me the opportunity to improve myself and to get an education, which actually changed the trajectory of the Freeman family name. This place, MTSU, I owe a lot of my success to. I’m glad to come back here to be a trustee because it’s a way for me to give back to the university and to help other kids who are maybe first-time students.”

J.B. Baker: “I came here from Martin Methodist College in Pulaski. So, I spent two years there. I participated in the Greek system here. In the social atmosphere, I was in the Kappa Alpha Order. Then I also had a part-time job here in town with a tobacco vendor. So, I had (memories) on campus, off campus (and) all of the above.”

Stephen Smith: “My focus when in school was being a baseball player, and my coach, John Stanford, was one of the greatest men in my life. All my good memories of school were made possible by Coach Stanford. Playing a child’s game being led by a “fisher of men” was a dream come true. Walking across our graduation stage at nearly 60 years of age was a big thrill. (It was) equal to winning baseball championships.”

Pamela Wright: “On one side, the academics side, I had such great professors and still remember many of those. I don’t have interactions with them, but they molded me into really wanting to be successful and gave me great direction and motivation. On the fun side, I had my share of partying. Let’s just leave it at that. I haven’t always been a stiff old woman.”

To contact News Editor Andrew Wigdor, email newseditor@mtsusidelines.com.

For more news, follow us at www.mtsusidelines.com, on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines and on Twitter at @Sidelines_News.

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