Having the opportunity to serve my alma mater, the University of Tennessee, and my state by serving as the president for these last six months has been both an honor and huge responsibility. I have been blessed to be surrounded by a passionate, intelligent and bold team throughout the state and believe we have made some incredible progress during our first six months together. I am so proud of their “students-first” approach to their work and accomplishments. I believe that there is so much positive energy and momentum, and I wanted to take a moment and share them with you.
- Launched Transparent UT. Transparency is important not just to external stakeholders as part of our fiduciary responsibility to those that fund us, but also to our internal stakeholders. Information is the corollary to empowerment, and to have an empowered team of students, faculty and staff, they must be informed, and as much as possible, have access to the same information the President does. In November, our communications team developed a website – tennessee.edu/transparency – and created a Transparency Advisory Group to guide our decisions in making information easier to find and more accessible.
- Launched TEAM. We must ensure work is done in the most efficient and effective manner between the UT system and its campuses and institutes. The Task force for Effective Administration and Management (TEAM) is actively working to ensure, and to make clear why things are done a particular way. With over 50 people from all campuses, led by UT system Chief Financial Officer David Miller, we are eager to see very positive suggestions from TEAM in mid-May.
- UT Knoxville Vice Chancellor of Diversity and Engagement. After visiting with numerous faculty, staff, students, external stakeholders and legislators, we all agreed with the importance of having a leader on the Knoxville campus to support the safety, engagement and success of our diverse population. In early December, Interim Chancellor Wayne Davis hired Tyvi Small, who has done a fantastic job working in support of our diversity efforts.
- FUTURE support. I could not have been more proud of my University than when I found out about our program to support approximately 17 students with developmental and intellectual disabilities to experience a two-year, non-credit bearing program at UT Knoxville. This year we have seen the FUTURE program and Student Disability Services partner together to ensure that students have access to and receive support needed to fully access and participate in their academics and campus life, including the addition of a pilot residency program thanks to Chancellor Wayne Davis and the Knoxville leadership team. I have been personally rewarded by having one of the students, Alex Cole, serving as my intern this semester.
- A sizeable impact in our communities. Everywhere you look, UT is making a sizeable impact in the communities it serves. Earlier this year, we announced UT’s estimated economic impact of $9.094 billion across the state for fiscal year 2017. The study we commissioned included UT and our campuses located in Knoxville, Chattanooga and Martin, as well as the Health Science Center in Memphis, the Space Institute in Tullahoma and the statewide Institute of Agriculture and Institute for Public Service.
- Largest state budget in history. Thanks to Governor Bill Lee and the state legislature, UT received the biggest budget in our state’s history. We were awarded a $22.9 million increase (3.7 percent), which means it is UT’s largest budget at $643.8 million. This included $17.4 million for the salary pools for our employees. We also received an additional $10 million for system-wide security upgrades to provide against active shooter threats and $81.5 million for the new UT Institute of Agriculture’s Energy and Environmental Science Education Research Building, a facility that nearly every ag and veterinary medicine student will pass through multiple times while working toward their degrees. Additionally, UT Martin at McNairy County was awarded a recurring increase to its efforts in rural southwest Tennessee.
- Graduate Medical Education assistance. Tennessee has a critical shortage of family practice doctors in our rural communities. While we can graduate more from our academic programs at the Health Science Center, it doesn’t help if they cannot get residencies. Since those are funded by the federal government and they aren’t increasing the number, we suggested, and the legislature and Governor Lee agreed, to fund 100 new positions at $9 million per year. A huge win for UT and for the people of Tennessee. Once again, a huge thank you to our state leadership!
- UT Promise. It is critically important that we do our part to help be a ladder up for the middle class and the working class. By launching UT Promise, we have done something no statewide university system has ever done in history, and are being recognized across the state and throughout the country. Students in a household making under $50,000 – which means more than half of Tennessee households – can attend any of our campuses free of tuition and fees. In Tennessee, finances will not be an issue if you can earn the right to come to our best universities academically. And it’s not just about access, but also about success: each student will be matched with a volunteer mentor. While we can afford the program, we will also use it to launch an endowment campaign with a target of $100 million, and we have already raised over $11 million within weeks of the launch.
- Sports Authority legislation. With the support of the state legislature, UT campuses are finally able to serve beer and wine at our campus sports facilities, such as Thompson Boling and Neyland Stadium in Knoxville. This will allow bigger music concerts and have a positive impact on the local economies. In addition, this has the potential of generating up to an additional $5 million across our campuses.
- Decision on relocation of Audiology and Speech Pathology (ASP). We have a great ASP department, but they have been working in far less than ideal conditions in the south end of Neyland Stadium for years. This year we made the decision to move them to the UT Conference Center in downtown Knoxville and invest over $10 million in renovations. Their new home will be so much better and well deserved.
- Eugenia Williams house decision. We have spent 20 years trying to decide on this property. While we are very thankful for the generous donation, the University has put an extensive effort into finding a use for the house by the University or a third party within the parameters of the will, but that has proven to be entirely unsuccessful. As a result, we have decided to seek approval to sell it. The proceeds will go to the UT Promise Endowment at UT Knoxville so that lower income students can fulfill their dream of coming to UT.
- Selected Kerry Witcher, UT Foundation President. Kerry Witcher led UTFI in 2018 to a record year for number of donations and amount raised, plus had great increases in alumni engagement. While the internal search produced additional extremely qualified candidates, Kerry’s experience and record of success made him a clear choice to lead the UT Foundation.
- Selected a spectacular new Chancellor for UTK, Donde Plowman. Last week, the UT Board of Trustees unanimously approved Donde Plowman as the ninth chancellor of UT Knoxville. I have said many times that the most important responsibility I have as the UT system interim president is to hire an outstanding person to lead our flagship campus in Knoxville. Donde will be a transformational, collaborative leader for the campus, and I look forward to working with her to advance the university and the state of Tennessee for many years to come.
Much like our graduates who have crossed the stage to receive their diplomas on all of our campuses, we have only just begun. Our most important mission is squarely focused on our students and ensuring we do our part to help them achieve their dream of successfully completing college. I am confident that with this focus, the next six months will make the first six pale in comparison to the positive transformation we will experience. I’m confident that the University of Tennessee is about to experience the most meteoric rise of any university in the history of higher education. Please buckle up!
Tags: budget, economic impact, transparency, UT Promise