KNOXVILLE – Higher education and the University of Tennessee are critical to the state, even as Tennessee is currently experiencing a “tailwind” of prosperity, Gov. Bill Haslam told the UT Board of Trustees at its fall meeting Friday.
“We have a tailwind. Unemployment has declined, more money has been dedicated to K-12 and higher education, and the state has a surplus, said Haslam, who as governor is also chairman of the UT board. “The Drive to 55 has increased the number of Tennesseans with a higher education, and the Tennessee Promise has helped even more begin their higher education journeys.”
While state officials continue to recruit businesses, Haslam said Tennessee’s need has shifted “to making sure the workforce is prepared for the challenge both in quantity and quality.”
UT’s role in responding to that challenge is to continue educating students to meet that need, he said.
If we’re going to continue to make progress, higher education is critical,” Haslam said.
In his report to the board, UT President Joe DiPietro renewed the University’s commitment to expand diversity and inclusion and to narrow a projected funding gap.
“At the University of Tennessee, we are unequivocally committed to diversity and inclusion,” he said. “We have to demonstrate to everybody – on and off our campuses – that diversity and inclusion are important.”
Students need a campus that is friendly and welcoming to all people, “which is about more than having a nice place to go study,” DiPietro said. “The reality is, if you feel unwelcome at one of our campuses, if you feel like you’re not included or like you’re in a hostile environment, you’re far less likely to complete.”
To enhance those efforts, DiPietro appointed a special adviser to the president on diversity and inclusion. Since assuming her role on July 1, Noma Anderson has met with faculty senates across the University system and with legislators across the state to begin conversations about what diversity and inclusion mean at UT and to the state.
Related to those efforts, the University will conduct a climate survey of all 50,000 students at UT campuses statewide in spring 2017 to learn their perceptions of civility, safety, diversity, inclusion and how welcoming they find their campuses’ atmosphere.
“In this way, climate speaks to everything from how safe and respected students feel, to their assessment of opportunities for meaningful engagement,” DiPietro said.
Survey results will be reported in fall 2017.
A new science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) building for UT Martin and an engineering services facility for UT Knoxville top the University’s state capital project funding requests for fiscal year 2017-2018.
State funding requires undergraduate campuses to fund 25 percent of a proposed building’s cost. During the 2016 legislative session, however, legislators approved an exception that gave UT Martin one year to raise 10 percent of a proposed $65 million STEM building. The Latimer family in West Tennessee donated the UT Martin portion and trustees approved naming the new facility the Latimer Engineering and Science Building.
DiPietro also emphasized the need for dialogue with state officials on improvements in allocating state building funds. The University will seek to have funding of the $129 million UT Knoxville engineering services building divided over two fiscal years, 2017-2018 and 2018-2019, with $45.12 million funded each year.
“Not being able to fund projects over multiple years is problematic in dealing with donors and constructing the maximum amount of buildings over time,” DiPietro said, noting that UT Knoxville has raised its required $35.75 million portion of the engineering services building cost.
The Board further approved five-year capital project funding requests totaling more than $757 million, including those for fiscal 2017-2018, and capital maintenance funding requests of more than $404 million.
In an update on the University’s sustainable funding initiative, DiPietro announced later this year he would reconvene the “Budget Advisory Group,” which helped launch the effort in 2014. At that time, a $377 million funding gap was projected by 2024. In 2015, UT trustees approved a set of budget restrictions toward re-allocating $68 million at the end of two fiscal years. After only one year, $61 million already had been realized through cutting costs, maximizing non-traditional resources and securing new revenue. DiPietro said the University would reach its $68 million savings goal – and possibly more – by the end of 2016.
“That progress was a great validation of our efforts, but they are ongoing,” he said.
DiPietro said he plans to ask the Budget Advisory Group to review the current budget boundaries and how they might be further optimized. He plans to propose another two years of budget restrictions that would begin in 2017.
The independent Title IX Commission DiPietro initiated to review University resources and programs for preventing and responding to sexual assaults is set for its first meeting on Nov. 17.
“What I’m trying to do, and what we’re trying to do with this commission is put us in a position where we have the best programs available to respond in cases of sexual violence,” he said. “Our core mission with this group is to tell how not just how to be very good, but how to be the very best in the nation.”
The group is expected to conduct its research and issue a report on findings and recommendations within six months. Commission members are:
- Stanley Brand, senior counsel with Akin Gump Strauss Hauer and Feld in Washington, D.C.
- Elizabeth Conklin, associate vice president of the office of institutional equity and Title IX coordinator for the University of Connecticut
- Janet Judge, president of Sports Law Associates in Boston
- Bill Morelli, attorney with Morelli Law in Franklin, Tennessee
In a move that created the second named college in UT Knoxville’s 222-year history, trustees approved naming the College of Engineering for John Tickle. Tickle, a UT trustee, also is a 1965 UT Knoxville graduate with an industrial engineering degree. Tickle is chairman of the Strongwell Corporation.
“My goal is for the University of Tennessee to be known for their education and the product they put out,” said Tickle. “(My wife) Ann and I both believe that education is what fuels success — not just our own success, but the success of UT and the state, as well.
“I’m deeply honored and will try to live up to the billing,” he said of the naming recognition.
The meeting was the first since a new state law went into effect that created two new committees and five new subcommittees for the UT board, as well as required a public forum.
Most of the new committees and subcommittees held brief organizational meetings on Thursday and Friday. The subcommittee on student conduct, rights and responsibilities, however, conducted a public hearing on a proposed UT Knoxville Student Code of Conduct. UT trustees will vote on the code at a future meeting.
The public forum took place during the advancement and public affairs committee meeting on Thursday, when trustees listened as one person spoke about salary increases and two others discussed the possibility of outsourcing of facilities services.
In other business, the Board approved:
- A policy on settlement of claims and litigation.
- Performance goals under the Performance Incentive Payment Plan for University Officers.
- Revision of post-tenure performance review provisions in the Board tenure policy.
- A three-year limited duration appointment for Tonjanita Johnson as executive vice president and chief operating officer.
- A title change to senior vice president for research, outreach and economic development for David Millhorn.
- The appointment of Keith Carver as chancellor of UT Martin, effective Jan. 3.
- The appointment of David Miller as chief financial officer, effective Jan. 1.
- Honorary resolutions of recognition and gratitude for former student trustee Jalen Blue, who graduated from UT Knoxville in May; Julius Johnson, who retired as Tennessee commissioner of agriculture and ex officio trustee in 2016; and James Murphy III, who stepped down from the board after serving as a trustee since 2003.