How We Spent Our Summer Break

Category: Column

by Randy Boyd

We all remember going back to school and our teacher asking us to write an essay on how we spent our summer break? Since our campuses across the state will be back at school soon, I thought I would share with you how I spent my summer break. As you will see by the following, it certainly wasn’t a “break” in the traditional sense. In fact, it was arguably a historic, transformative summer, thanks to all the great work by our team across the state. See if you agree!


Student Success Summit at UT Martin.

Almost 250 people representing 28 colleges and universities from six states attended the inaugural Skyhawk Regional Retention Summit held at the University of Tennessee at Martin on May 7-8. Attendees and facilitators brought perspectives from two and four-year, public and private, faith-based and state institutions to the discussion on student success and perseverance to graduation across the southeastern United States. Speakers included John Gardner, CEO of the Gardner Institute, who is nationally known the initiator in 1982 of the “First Year Experience in higher education;” Mike Krause, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission; and UT Martin Chancellor Keith Carver. Session topics focused on the challenges facing different student populations, including rural, first generation, low-income and transfer students, and ways to help them persist to graduation.


Oak Ridge Institute at UT was established.

On June 21, the UT Board of Trustees (BOT) approved a transformative resolution creating the Oak Ridge Institute at the University of Tennessee (ORI@UT). The establishment of ORI@UT forges a path of increased collaboration and alignment, and will enhance Tennessee’s ability to provide top-tier talent in areas of national need. Specifically, ORI@UT is developing plans to recruit 60 new top-tier UT faculty/researchers, matched by 60 renowned scientists/researchers at ORNL; leverage existing world-class facilities for high-return programs; increase the number of joint PhD students from approximately 120 to 500 working on externally-funded projects; and attract roughly $150M in new extramural funding annually when fully executed. The implementation of ORI@UT will help elevate UT to the top echelon of public research institutions nationally.


Reunification of UTIA and UTK.

Of the 1862 Land Grant Institutions in the nation, UT was the only one for which the flagship campus was independent of the College of Agriculture, College of Veterinary Medicine, Experiment Stations and Extension. As a result, according to FY17 National Science Foundation (NSF) Higher Education Research and Development (HERD) Survey data, UT Knoxville ranks 107th in research and UTIA ranks 170th. We were not structured in a way that allows us to be competitive. This isolation also limited the support for agriculture in our state by limiting the sources of funds. At the June 21st Board meeting, the BOT’s voted to reunify these two critical campuses. By doing so, together they now rank 55th among public universities. This not only helps reputation and ranking, but also aligns us to better collaborate to find new synergies, and thus serve both agriculture and the state in new, more impactful ways. Conveniently, the two campuses already shared the same faculty senate, faculty handbook, residence halls, facilities management, and are accredited as a single institution. The only changes will be positive, and we are excited to see how this reunification further benefits both campuses. By just improving in rankings, it’s one plus one equals two. However, with innovation and collaboration, one plus one can equal three, or more! More information on the UTIA-UTK land grant unification can be found here.


2025 Strategic Plan approved.

After six months of discussion, debate and challenging ourselves, we agreed on a 2025 strategic plan with five goals and specific metrics to obtain. Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Tonja Johnson did an excellent job of leading the process and presenting it to the BOT, which unanimously and enthusiastically approved it. All metrics will be tracked by campus and reported on during the year, or at least annually, depending on the goal. You can find the full presentation here.


Bold, new out-of-state tuition policy at UT Chattanooga.

UTC Chief Operating Officer Richard Brown presented a bold and innovative out-of-state tuition pricing plan at the BOT meeting, and it was unanimously approved. With in-state high school graduates shrinking, we all must be more aggressive in recruiting talent beyond our borders, and UTC is leading the way! You can read more about this plan here.


Launched the One UT Leadership Council.

In an effort to increase collaboration and communication with our great partners at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and to ensure a broader platform for the Institute of Agriculture, we replaced a quarterly “chancellors meeting” with a monthly, in person “One UT Leadership Council” consisting of ORNL Director Thomas Zacharia, UTIA Senior Vice President and Senior Vice Chancellor Tim Cross, and the Chancellors at the UT Health Science Center, UT Knoxville, UT Chattanooga and UT Martin. We have already had two meetings and having face-to-face time with the leadership from across the state is so impactful and important. Independently we are all good, but together we are great! There is not a stronger force for positive change in our state!


Launched the UT Commission on Agriculture.

The land-grant mission of the UT Knoxville is to serve the people of our great state, and it has always had at its core to serve the agricultural industry and the people that industry serves. In order to serve, we need to understand and to understand, we need to listen. The more ways we can do so, the better we can deliver on our mission. Thus, we are creating the first UT Commission on Agriculture beginning this fall. For years, the leader of UT Institute of Agriculture has had advisory councils and served on the Board of Farm Bureau along with involvement in other organizations, and thus has always been directly tied into all types of agriculture across our state. However, the President hasn’t had the same direct formal connection, nor have the chancellors at UT Knoxville and UT Martin. I believe it is critically important that all leadership that support agriculture at UT hear directly from the people, the communities and the industries we serve in order to provide the value they want, need and deserve. It is equally important that the University coordinates its efforts with leadership in the agricultural community. This council will do just that. More information about the UT Commission on Agriculture can be found here.



We had our third highest fundraising year in history and finished the year with 64,632 donors, the most donors in UT’s history. And we finished the year with a bang! At the June 21 Board meeting, UT Martin Chancellor Keith Carver announced the largest gift ever to its campus, a $22 million bequest from Bill and Rosann Nunnelly, for scholarships for rural students to attend UTM free of tuition, fees, room and board!


Approval for the sale of the Eugenia Williams House.

After 20 years of deliberation, we approved the sale of the Eugenia Williams House at the June Board of Trustees meeting, and subsequently that was approved by the Attorney General, the local courts and the State Building Commission. Proceeds will go to the UT Promise Endowment for UT Knoxville so that generations of lower income students can come to UTK free of tuition and fees.


Launched new Enterprise Resource Planning process.

Chief Financial Officer David Miller has led the Task Force on Effective Administration Management (TEAM) since last December, comprised of more than 50 representatives from all campuses across the state, and supported with consulting from Deloitte. It reported to the Board of Trustees at the June meeting, and you can read the full TEAM report here. One critically important recommendation is a new Enterprise Resource Management software. Our current system is nearing the end of its life, and we have no choice but to change. We are currently creating a business plan to estimate the significant costs involved. It will take a lot of time and work (3 to 5 years), but it absolutely must be done and will greatly improve our efficiency and ability to get real-time data to make better decisions. While the process has just begun, getting started was a big first step.


Summit for Opioid Addiction and Response.

The University of Tennessee is uniquely positioned to identify the true “grand challenges” of the state and convene all the key stakeholders to work together to combat those challenges. One such challenge in Tennessee is the opioid addiction crisis. On August 1 and 2, over 700 leaders from across the state and nation convened in Knoxville to share ideas and information, make connections, and make new plans to work together to combat this epidemic on our people, our state and the nation.


One UT Innovation and Collaboration grants.

Due to returns on investments that far exceeded expectations, my office has been able to provide $1.5 million in grants for faculty across the system for 1) student success, 2) research and 3) outreach and engagement innovation. Details will be forthcoming in September, but there will be $500,000 for each grant category and winning proposals will be based not only on effectiveness and sustainability, but also on how broad the collaboration is across the UT system.


Extension visits.

For me personally, I am trying to live up to a promise! After my first two weeks on the job, I boasted I had been to every campus: Memphis, Martin, Tullahoma, Chattanooga, Institute for Public Service, Institute of Agriculture, Knoxville and Oak Ridge National Lab. Tim Cross over heard me and reminded me we have campuses in all 95 counties, our Extension offices. I promptly committed to visiting all 95. I’m pretty sure no President has ever done it. It has been a lot of work, but it has been a labor of love. They all share the same mission and passion, but each are unique and inspiring in their own way. This summer I have had the pleasure of visiting 35, and I can’t wait to visit the rest!



This summer, and this year, we have had a lot of success and launched significant new initiatives. While there will surely be a few more big ideas to launch before the year is out, the balance of the year will focus on execution. We need a big, successful roll out of the UT Promise and a launch of the UT Promise Endowment. The UTIA-UTK Land-Grant Unification Team will be busy listening to stakeholders across the state to ensure we make the most of our new opportunities for UTK and UTIA to work together. And we need to execute on the promise of the ORI@UT by completing the business plan and launching Phase I. Oh, and we will be welcoming over 50,000 of the world’s most brilliant students back to our campuses, and we will be dedicating our heart and souls to ensuring their success and the fulfillment of their dreams.

Are you excited yet? I am! Summer break has been great, but it’s time to pick up the pace and get back to work! I couldn’t be more excited about our future, this year and the decades to come for the University of Tennessee – our One UT!

Randy Boyd