Dear UT Family,

Soon after I arrived in Knoxville in 2006 to lead the Institute of Agriculture, I fell in love with the University of Tennessee. I found a special place with faculty and staff committed to the students and the residents of Tennessee. There is something about the spirit found within this University. It is real. It is sincere. It is palpable. It is authentic. I have been proud to be a part of it first as chancellor of UTIA, then as president of the UT System.

Now, as I come to the end of my journey with UT, I have, of course, been reflecting on my time here. There is much that we have accomplished since I became president in 2011 and of which we should be proud. Together, we have made UT history.

We are attracting more students, keeping more students and graduating more students. Our enrollment has increased 2.6 percent since 2011. Our retention rate system-wide is at 81 percent. Our graduation rate is up 6 percent. In fact, more than 382,000 UT graduates are changing the world.

When we set our goals in 2011, we hoped to raise $200 million a year by 2020. Last year, more than 64,000 alumni and friends contributed almost $400 million, a record fundraising year. We also had a record-high, system-wide $481 million in externally secured research expenditures. Our state appropriations have increased by $165 million during the past seven years. We also have constructed or renovated more than 11.5 million square feet using $727 million from the state while internally securing $1.25 billion. We continue to make more than 5 million contacts with Tennesseans across the state through our Extension agents and Institute for Public Service staff. Truly, everywhere you look across the state, UT is there and we are transforming lives.

There’s one accomplishment of which I am most proud because it affects our students and their families now and in the future. In 2015, after a few years of high tuition increases, I learned of an anticipated annual budget shortfall of $377 million in 2025. I knew we had to fix our business model’s long-term sustainability. I didn’t want to burden our students or their families. I didn’t want to leave it for the next president to solve. Again, we came together to fix the problem. We formed the Budget Advisory Group—made up of faculty, staff, administrators, students and Board of Trustee members—and got to work increasing revenue and cutting costs. Through our hard work and focused efforts, along with increases in state appropriations, that shortfall has been erased. Topping off this accomplishment, we’ve had a record four years of low tuition increases, including three campuses having a zero percent tuition increase for undergraduates this year. This has never occurred in the UT System’s 50-year history. It was our problem to fix and we solved it.

It has been important for me to leave the university in better shape than I found it and it is. Thank you for helping me to achieve that.

Now, 42 years after I graduated from veterinary school, it is time for me to give back to my family—my wife, Deb, my three children and six grandchildren. They have sacrificed much as I have pursued a career as a leader in higher education. I thank you from the bottom of our hearts for the way you welcomed and supported us.

Thank you for the ways you have worked to make the University better. We couldn’t have done it without you. Our legacy should allow those who come after us to accomplish even more for those we serve in the state and beyond.

I will continue to be very proud of the University of Tennessee and, no doubt, will watch it achieve bigger successes and bolder accomplishments in the future.

All my best,