by Randy Boyd
In my first 60 days, the most common question I’ve been asked is “Aren’t you drinking out of a firehose?” Maybe, but if so, the firehose is pumping Red Bull! It has been incredibly energizing. Our slogan emblazoned across the state is Everywhere you look, UT and it exemplifies UT’s amazing presence and profound impact in each of our state’s 95 counties. We are doing exciting things now and, best of all, there’s more to come.
During the months prior to taking office, I traveled the state to listen and learn from many stakeholders both inside and outside of the University of Tennessee system. From those discussions, I outlined six priorities for my tenure. I’d like to share a brief progress report on some of them:
- Student success. Everything starts with student success, and so should this update. UT is the state’s chief talent engine, and we want to ensure all students are given the support they need to be successful and graduate. We can be proud that all our universities set records for six-year graduation rates last year and are the best in the state among public schools. But our state’s best, UT Knoxville, at 72.5%, still trails others such as the University of Georgia at 86%. We like beating our rivals on Saturdays, but it’s more important to beat them Monday through Friday.
- Leadership matters. Another priority is to select the next Chancellor of the UT Knoxville campus. In December, we announced a fantastic search committee, and I charged them with finding a transformative, generational leader, and one that puts student success first and recognizes they are part of a statewide team of campuses and institutes committed to collaboration and teamwork. We expect to have a few candidates on the Knoxville campus in April.
- Brand and culture. In order to strengthen our brand and create the culture to support it, we have launched the “Transparent UT” initiative. We recently launched a website (tennessee.edu/transparency) to begin sharing more insights. From salaries to graduation rates to contracts, information that has been asked for in the past will be proactively shared. Upcoming plans are to create a dynamic dashboard that will make information easily searchable and managed. Beyond the accessibility of information, we also expect this to advance our culture into one that is open and transparent in everything we do.
- Efficiency and effectiveness. The Task force on Effective Administration and Management (TEAM) will help to optimize the roles and responsibilities between the campuses, institutes and the system. TEAM will make sure we are doing everything in the most efficient and most effective way by helping to ensure the right people are in the right place. Their recommendations should be complete by May.
- Engagement. From the UT Health Science Center in Memphis to the College of Social Work in Knoxville, we have many working independently on solving the opioid and addiction crisis in our state. But, we are always more effective and impactful when we work together. We recently hosted a summit of professionals both inside and outside UT to explore how we can have an even greater impact in ridding our state of this scourge. We have much work left to do and will be reconvening in the spring to map out a strategy. UT’s success and Tennessee’s success are inextricably linked, and our State cannot be successful unless we solve this crisis…together.
- Vol means all. One program that I have admired for some time is UTK’s FUTURE inclusion education program. Students with intellectual and developmental disabilities attend UT for two years, audit classes, and get to experience university life. They learn life skills and responsibility, and many get internships. I am very fortunate to have Alex Cole, a FUTURE student, as my new intern for this semester. He is an amazing young man, and I’m not only proud of him but also proud of my alma mater for making this opportunity possible.
Regarding the Red Bull, I should confess that I don’t actually drink it. There is no need! I couldn’t be more energized about our accomplishments to come in 2019, from more than 12,000 new graduates to breakthroughs in research and collaboration, to finding new and better ways to serve the people of our great state. Everywhere you look, we are making a difference. Everywhere you look, UT!