The greatest decade awaits

Category: Column

While I may not be the first, let me be among the many to wish you a Happy New Year from the University of Tennessee!

It is such an honor to serve the great state of Tennessee. I’m incredibly proud of the accomplishments our team has made this past year. From providing more opportunities for students’ success to new platforms for research and discovery, to our impact in the lives of Tennesseans in every community across the state, it was an exciting and transformative 2019.

I am convinced, more so than ever, that there is no better time in the University of Tennessee’s history than now. As I look back on the last year, I am encouraged by all that has been accomplished and energized about what’s to come. The next decade will be the greatest in the history of the University of Tennessee. All that has come before has provided the foundation, and we have the team in place to make it so.


Increased enrollment

Across the UT System, total enrollment rose 1.5 percent to an all-time high of 51,582 across all campuses. Together, we are preparing the next generation through the combined force of education, research and outreach.


A sizeable impact in our communities

Everywhere you look, we are making a sizeable impact in the communities we serve. Last year, we announced UT’s estimated economic impact of $9.094 billion across the state.


New Chancellor for UT Knoxville, Donde Plowman

After a national search, Donde Plowman was selected to serve as the ninth chancellor of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in April. In a short amount of time, Chancellor Plowman has already made tremendous strides in bringing the campus together and helping ensure our faculty, staff and students are working and learning in a welcoming environment.


Created UT Promise

It is critically important that we do our part to be a ladder up for the middle and working classes. We announced UT Promise in March, and I traveled the state in September and October to promote the scholarships to students at 14 high schools. To date, UT Promise has more than 4,212 first-time, full-time freshman applicants and 1,414 applications from current UT students. An endowment was created to support this endeavor, and more than $21.5 million has been raised so far.


Funding and leadership for diversity on the UT Knoxville campus

During my initial town hall meetings, the most expressed need on the UTK campus was to re-hire a campus diversity vice chancellor and restore funding for that office. I met with 41 different legislators and various levels of state leadership to explain the need to support student success of all students, and obtained agreement. UTK hired Tyvi Small as interim vice chancellor (this fall the interim was removed) and funded the office in my first month on the job.


Launched TEAM

We must ensure work is done in the most efficient and effective manner between the UT System and its campuses and institutes. Therefore, the Task force for Effective Administration and Management (TEAM) was launched and is actively working to ensure, and to make clear why things are done a particular way. More than 50 people from all campuses continue to be involved with this initiative.


One UT Culture and One UT Leadership Council

The biggest area for opportunity in the UT System in my view has been how separate and unaligned campuses have been across the state, including lack of integration with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). It has been my overriding objective to create and model a “One UT” culture. We have made great progress, and our campus leaders are regularly thinking more about how to work together and share policies and initiatives. One mechanism we created to achieve this is the creation of the One UT Leadership Council. This includes the senior vice president/senior vice chancellor of the UT Institute of Agriculture, the director or ORNL and all four campus chancellors, meeting in person for a half day each month. Having face-to-face time with the leadership from across the state is 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.


Hosted Summit for Opioid Addiction and Response (SOAR)

UT is uniquely positioned to identify the state’s “grand challenges,” such as the opioid addiction crisis, and convene the key stakeholders to work together to combat those challenges. More than 700 leaders from across the state and nation gathered 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.


Oak Ridge Institute at UT

The Oak Ridge Institute at the University of Tennessee (ORI@UT) forges a path of increased collaboration and alignment between UT and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and will enhance Tennessee’s ability to provide talent to meet national needs. We expect it to result in 120 new faculty positions, nearly 400 new graduate students, and generate more than $150 million in annual research expenditures within seven years. In addition to enhancing Tennessee’s ability to provide talent to meet national needs, it will catapult UT into the top echelons of research institutions.


Transparent UT

We launched Transparent UT in an effort to be more open regarding our information and data, which included the launch of the Transparent UT website and online portal for individuals to submit new ideas. We launched a “data dashboard” that will build on our commitment to providing greater and easier access to information for UT’s faculty, staff, students and the communities they serve.


UTIA and UTK Reunification

Of all the 1862 land grant institutions, UT was the only one with its flagship campus independent of the College of Agriculture, College of Veterinary Medicine, Experiment Stations and Extension. As a result, according to Fiscal Year 2017 National Science Foundation Higher Education Research and Development Survey data, UT Knoxville ranked 107th in research and UTIA ranked 170th among all universities. We were not structured in a way that allowed us to be competitive. This summer I asked the Board of Trustees to reunify these two critical campuses, which already shared the same faculty senate, faculty handbook, residence halls and facilities management. As a result, now together, the campuses rank among the top 50 public universities.


Launched the UT Commission on Agriculture

The land-grant mission of the UT Knoxville has always had serving the agricultural industry at its core. 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 that mission. The UT Commission on Agriculture was created to help us listen. All UT leaders that support agriculture at UT need to hear directly from the people, the communities and the industries we serve in order to provide the value they want, need and deserve.


UT Academic and Student Affairs Summit on Mental Health and Wellness

More than 100 people from across the UT System gathered to discuss strategies to improve mental health and wellbeing for UT students. Attendees included chief academic officers, vice chancellors, deans, faculty, and staff; student government representatives from each UT campus; and representatives from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. David Arnold, National Association of Student Personnel Administrators assistant vice president for health, safety and well-being initiatives, served as the keynote speaker.



We had our third highest fundraising year in history and finished the year with 64,632 donors, the most donors in UT’s history. UT Martin Chancellor Keith Carver announced the largest gift 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!


Israel Academic Exploration

I initiated and led a mission to Israel to build relationships with all the major universities. In part, it is the beginning of a focused effort to become a more global university, improving exchanges of students and faculty, and developing more research partnerships. In part, it was to build stronger ties with the Jewish community across the state and many of their leaders joined us. It was incredibly successful on both fronts. In addition, the delegation of UT leadership and faculty built strong bonds, especially between UTIA and UT Knoxville.


External Review of Promotion and Tenure Processes

A team of external reviewers examined tenure processes and procedures currently in place across the UT System. The committee met with University Faculty Council; campus administration including deans and department heads/chairs (all UT campuses); and UT System administration. This external committee identified strengths, areas for improvement, and best practices and/or recommendations for improving promotion and tenure processes and procedures across the System.


Unleashing our best kept secret

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. I was reminded that we have campuses in all 95 counties—our Extension offices. I promptly committed to visiting all 95. They share the same mission and passion, but are unique and inspiring in their own way. To date, I have visited 61 extension offices, and my goal is to have all 95 visits completed by early 2020.


These are just a few of the many points of pride we have all contributed to during the past year. While these milestone achievements are important, I remain squarely focused on our students and ensuring we do our part to help them achieve their dream of successfully completing college. That means hiring and retaining the best faculty and staff, having a growth mindset at all times, and expanding access to our campuses and institutes to students across Tennessee and around the world. I can’t wait to see what next year brings!



Randy Boyd

Randy Boyd
Interim President – The University of Tennessee System


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