Interim Executive Director
Robert M. “Bob” Smith has devoted more than five decades in service to public higher education.
From 1999-2012, he was Provost and then President of Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania, retiring as President Emeritus. In March 2017, the UT Board of Trustees named him Chancellor of the University of Tennessee at Martin and conferred the title of Chancellor Emeritus following nineteen months as Interim Chancellor. From 1987-1999, he served UTM as Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences when he also co-created and directed the WestStar Leadership Program, and for three years directed the Tennessee Governor’s School for the Humanities. He also served as a Fellow for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Secretary, in the Carter and Reagan administrations. Most recently he created the UT Executive Leadership Institute and has served as its director since 2018.
As Chancellor at UTM, he is credited with leading UTM through turnarounds in financial, enrollment, fund-raising, and accreditation obstacles. Committed to utilizing performance metrics, Smith led SRU to be a national model for data-driven decision-making, delivering significant improvements in enrollment, retention, and graduation rates.
Smith and his wife, Ramona, live in Franklin, Tennessee.
Chief of Staff
Lou Hanemann currently serves as the Chief of Staff for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. In this capacity, he provides leadership and operation support for the Executive Director, assists in the development and communication of strategic policies, and the management of special higher education initiatives. In addition to his duties as Chief of Staff, Lou coordinates the government relations work with the Tennessee General Assembly, Administration, and other state agencies. Having served as the public policy liaison for the University of Tennessee System and similar roles with the Tennessee Board of Regents, Lou has extensive working relationships with members of the Tennessee General Assembly, the Administration, campuses and other state and national higher education stakeholders on issues that impact higher education public policy. He has Bachelor of Arts degree in Public Administration from Middle Tennessee State University and a Master’s in Business Data Analytics from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Chief Aid and Compliance Officer
Peter Abernathy oversees THEC/TSAC’s legal and compliance division, which includes THEC/TSAC’s contracts, legislative affairs, rulemaking, and oversight of institutional compliance with the state’s grant and scholarship programs. Peter also provides assistance in coordinating the management of THEC/TSAC’s loan, outreach, and grant and scholarship divisions.
Before joining THEC/TSAC in 2008, Abernathy worked in the Department of Finance and Administration’s Budget Division for 12 years as the coordinator of K-12 and Higher Education’s budgets. He earned a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Tennessee, a master’s in public administration from North Carolina State University, and a J.D. from the Nashville School of Law.
Chief Financial Officer
Jason Cavender oversees the THEC/TSAC’s Division of Business and Finance, including accounting, human resources and information technology functions. Financial management responsibilities for the THEC/TSAC combined budget is over $400 million and includes funds for general operating expenses and the Tennessee Lottery for Education program. In addition to these responsibilities, he serves as the liaison between the higher education governing boards and the legislature regarding any legislation having a financial impact in Tennessee.
Prior to coming to THEC/TSAC in 2004, Jason worked in the Department of Finance and Administration’s Budget Division for six years as the K-12 and Higher Education analyst. He earned a B.S. in History from Austin Peay State University and a M.Ed. from Tennessee State University.
Chief Policy Officer
Steven Gentile serves as the Chief Policy Officer and oversees the Bureau of Policy, Planning and Research. The Bureau, comprising the Research and Strategy Division and the Fiscal Policy Division, is charged with researching and developing policies and practices that make earning a higher education credential more attainable. The Bureau is also responsible for developing the state’s higher education appropriation request, completing all statutory reports, and supporting other divisions with data analyses and program evaluations.
Prior to joining THEC, Steven served as Assistant Dean of Admission and Financial Aid at Davidson College in North Carolina. He moved to Nashville in 2012 and shortly after started as a graduate assistant in the Policy, Planning and Research division before starting a full-time position as Assistant Director of Fiscal Policy for THEC in 2013.
A native of Cullowhee, North Carolina, Steven earned his Bachelor’s degree in Economics from Davidson College, his master’s of Higher Education Administration from Vanderbilt University, and his Doctorate of Education from Vanderbilt University.
Julie A. Roberts, PhD
Chief Academic Officer
Julie A. Roberts serves as the Chief Academic Officer for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC). In this role, she is responsible for the coordination of new academic programs among Tennessee’s public universities, academic policies, general education, transfer pathways, and the Tennessee Accreditation Network. Much of her recent work has focused on aligning credentials in a meaningful way to build clear pathways for students across all types of postsecondary institutions. Before joining THEC, Julie was the Director of Policy and Research at Complete Tennessee, a higher education policy and advocacy organization. Julie has also worked at Tennessee State University (TSU) in various student success roles culminating as the Director of Academic Success Services and Learning Support Centers. Julie holds degrees in Public Policy and Administration (PhD) and Business (MBA) from TSU, and a dual degree in English and Spanish (BA) from the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse.
Scott Sloan is the General Counsel for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. He is responsible for managing the agency’s legal and contracting functions, external affairs, and communications. Scott also represents THEC to the Tennessee General Assembly during the legislative session. In his time at the agency, he has collaborated closely with the legislature and other stakeholders in developing several key higher education initiatives. He assisted on the 2013 development of the Labor and Education Alignment Program (LEAP) as well as the 2014 passage of the Tennessee Veterans Education Transition Support (VETS) Act.
Before coming to THEC in 2012, he was the Director of Policy and Research for the Tennessee Secretary of State’s Office. Prior to that position, he was appointed by Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey to serve as the Chief Engrossing Clerk of the Tennessee Senate. In this role, he was an officer of the Senate, enrolled legislation for signature into law, and published the annual Senate Journal. Scott is a licensed attorney and graduate of both Western Kentucky University and the Nashville School of Law.