Dr. Tonja Johnson
Executive Vice President/Chief Operating Officer
Tonjanita (Tonja) L. Johnson was appointed executive vice president and chief operating officer for the University of Tennessee System on October 14, 2016. In this capacity, she has primary responsibility for assisting the President in maximizing the System’s operating performance and achieving its strategic goals and objectives.
Currently, Johnson’s primary responsibilities include overseeing the System’s strategic plan, initiating and managing strategic alliances, participating in the development of operating and capital budgets and providing executive oversight for five system-level offices, including: academic affairs and student success, communications and marketing, facilities planning and capital projects, human resources, and institutional research.
Johnson has served as a cabinet-level administrator for more than 15 years, working directly with and reporting to the institution’s president and serving as a trusted advisor. Her professional experiences have been focused on high-level organizational and operational activities and broad-based strategic communications and marketing efforts.
Prior to joining the UT System in June 2013 as Vice President for Communications and Marketing, Johnson served as Chief Deputy to the President at the State University of New York at Stony Brook from 2010-2013. In this capacity, she served as the chief advisor for the University president and was engaged at the highest level in the development and implementation of several transformational strategic and operational initiatives. She also held a faculty appointment in the SBU School of Professional Development.
From 2008-2010, Johnson served as associate vice president for marketing and communications at Middle Tennessee State University, where she was also a member of the faculty in the College of Mass Communication, teaching public relations. From 2001 to 2008, she served in a series of progressively more responsible positions at Mississippi Valley State University, including as chief of staff/executive assistant to the president and associate vice president for university relations. She also held a faculty appointment in the MVSU School of Mass Communications.
Johnson, who has held other professional positions in Alabama and Louisiana, began her college career at the University of Alabama (UA) in the summer of 1987 as a New York Times Scholar. She earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UA in mass communication in 1991 and 1996, respectively. In 2006, she also earned a Ph.D., in urban higher education from Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss., where she was an Ayers Fellow in the Jake Ayers Institute for Urban Research. She completed the Institute for Education Management at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2008 and expects to complete certification in construction management from Louisiana State University in 2017.
Johnson, who maintains an active speaking and presentation schedule, serves on several boards and commissions, including The Historic Tennessee Theatre Foundation Board of Directors, the Executive Board of the Great Smoky Mountain Council of the Boy Scouts of America, the West High School Foundation Board of Directors and the CASE Commission for Communications and Marketing.
A native of Butler, Alabama, she and her husband, Tony, live in Knoxville with their daughter, T’Anna Gabrielle; orange tabby cat, Matlock; and Portuguese waterdog, Tess.