NASHVILLE – From a foundation of strength and unity, the University of Tennessee is helping transform the state and its future, UT President Joe DiPietro said during his second State of the University address today.
“In fact, I believe that we are living in a transformational time,” DiPietro said before a crowd of legislators, alumni and friends at the Nashville Public Library. “One day, future generations of Tennesseans will look back at where we stand now as the moment when our state took a tremendous leap forward. And I’m very proud of the University of Tennessee’s role in that leap.”
Under Gov. Bill Haslam’s leadership, Tennessee has been nationally recognized for its emphasis on developing its workforce through education.
The University’s success in that role comes from the unity and strength of the entire system, DiPietro said. It stems from the diversity in thoughts and expression of its faculty and students and the creativity in which the University keeps tuition affordable. And it affects all Tennesseans.
DiPietro noted that the University is woven into the fabric of the state, from the quality of UT students to the excellence of UT graduates to world-renowned research to UT outreach that impacts all of Tennessee’s 95 counties.
“We have a powerful brand, and an unmatched reputation for quality, flagship research and delivering outreach like nobody else. Period,” he said. “The state of your university is strong and united. We are one.”
Since the approval of the Complete College Tennessee Act in 2010, the University’s graduation rate has risen 7 percent and the degrees awarded by 14 percent. The University also has $435 million in research and sponsored projects, which is up 8 percent from the 2015-16 fiscal year. Also, 46 percent of UT’s students graduate without debt.
DiPietro also acknowledged challenges, especially during this time of polarization in American life. In times of change, conversations can become strained and charged, DiPietro said as he called for the University community to remember the words of UT alumnus and late Sen. Howard Baker, “If we cannot be civil to one another, and if we stop dealing with those with whom we disagree or that we don’t like, we would soon stop functioning altogether.”
Listening with an open mind and respect for different viewpoints within the University’s diverse body creates campus environments that make students feel welcome and valued, which leads to higher retention and graduation rates, he said.
“Because change has been involved in trying to fully create those kinds of environments at UT, there has been some tension,” he said. “I understand that. Navigating change can be challenging.”
By helping its almost 50,000 students achieve their full potential while fulfilling its mission benefitting all Tennesseans, UT creates a $4.8 billion impact on the state annually.
“The University of Tennessee is one of this state’s most powerful vehicles for advancing both its economic agenda and quality of life,” DiPietro said.
And the University plans to continue doing so from an even stronger financial footing in the future while keeping costs low for students. The University has addressed its own economic challenges, DiPietro said, through the Budget Advisory Group he formed two years ago to look at ways to cut costs and increase revenues after he realized a projected annual funding shortfall of $377 million by 2025.
“I wasn’t going to kick the can down the road for the next president in this job. I wasn’t going to look outside the University for a solution. And I wasn’t going to allow tuition increases to be used to close the funding gap,” he said.
By the end of the 2016-17 fiscal year, the funding gap will have been reduced by almost $118 million. The savings came through increased efficiencies, cutting costs and unforeseen increases in state funding.
For the past two years, the University has kept tuition increases to 3 percent or less, which were the lowest in three decades. DiPietro said it will be three years in a row in 2017.
DiPietro also highlighted University achievements of the past 12 months:
- UT Knoxville is in the middle of a $1 billion campus makeover and had a record-breaking fundraising year.
- UT Chattanooga received top rankings among Southern master’s level universities and among Best Colleges for Veterans from U.S. News and World Report.
- UT Martin received its single-largest gift in school history to make it possible for the campus to build a much-needed science, technology, engineering and math building.
- UT Health Science Center launched the world’s most comprehensive Mobile Stroke Unit in Memphis where stroke incidence is 37 percent higher than the national average.
- UT Institute of Agriculture assisted after wildfire ravaged Gatlinburg with everything from caring for 22 injured animals to coordinating donated food, supplies and $60,000 worth of gift cards.
- UT Institute for Public Service helped create or retain 14,278 jobs and generated $1.28 billion in economic impact.
Following the annual address, DiPietro presented the President’s Awards, which yearly recognize employees whose exceptional contributions have helped fulfill one of the University’s three mission focus areas: education, research and outreach, as well as one whose work supported those efforts. Each honoree received a commemorative plaque and a $3,000 cash award.
The 2017 winners are:
- Educate – Jason Roberts, associate professor of animal science at UT Martin.
- Discover – Guy Reed, the Lemuel Diggs Professor of Medicine and chair of the department of medicine at UT Health Science Center.
- Connect – Christine Smith, director of the school of nursing and Student Health Services Clinic at UT Chattanooga.
- Support – Steve Butler, director of instructional technology services at UT Health Science Center.
DiPietro’s address, the awards presentation and the entire webcast are archived at tennessee.edu/state-of-ut/.
The University of Tennessee is a statewide system of higher education with campuses in Knoxville, Chattanooga, Martin and Memphis; the UT Space Institute in Tullahoma; the UT Institute of Agriculture with a presence in every Tennessee county; and the statewide Institute for Public Service. The UT system manages Oak Ridge National Laboratory through its UT-Battelle partnership; enrolls about 50,000 students statewide; produces about 10,000 new graduates every year; and represents more than 360,000 alumni around the world.