NASHVILLE – The University of Tennessee-with its unique capacity to provide education, conduct research and deliver outreach to every corner of the state-is turning its combined capabilities to the opioid crisis, President Joe DiPietro said today.
DiPietro’s announcement came during his third annual State of the University address before a crowd of UT leaders, government officials and dignitaries at the Nashville Public Library and to a live webcast audience.
“It’s exactly the kind of challenge that land-grant, research universities are made to take on,” DiPietro said of the opioid crisis during his speech, which was interspersed with short videos. “And it’s a problem of such complexity and consequence, it will require all we can do to overcome it.”
From conducting research on opioid addiction to proposing public policy and developing preventive education to treatment protocols, in the opioid crisis, UT experts are working to solve one of the state’s challenging problems.
After highlighting successes of the past year in each of the University’s three mission pillars—education, research and outreach—DiPietro shared a video capturing UT’s work to apply all three to combating the opioid crisis.
The UT Health Science Center’s Center for Addiction Science, the first of its kind in the nation, provides treatment, conducts research and delivers education and community outreach. The UT Institute of Agriculture’s Tennessee 4-H program Health Rocks teaches young people from 9 years old and up about illegal and legal substances. The Institute for Public Service’s Law Enforcement Innovation Center provides training to law enforcement on administering the medication Narcan for emergency treatment of opioid overdose.
“A problem as pervasive and insidious as opioid addiction can’t be overcome with a single solution,” DiPietro said. “The state of Tennessee is fortunate to have the resources of our University to apply to this terrible problem.”
Overall, UT remains strong, which is good for Tennessee, DiPietro said.
“The stronger the state of this University, the stronger the state of Tennessee,” DiPietro said. “Because everywhere you look, UT.”
UT resources and strength are the products of the University’s three-part mission to provide education, conduct research and deliver outreach. They’re also part of being a land-grant institution-a designation the University has had since 1862 as a result of the federal Morrill Act, DiPietro said. With that law, UT joined other public universities across the nation in opening higher education to all, instead of only the elite.
“We make excellent higher education accessible. We make discoveries that solve problems. We connect with all Tennesseans through outreach,” DiPietro said.
In 2017, UT research achieved a record-high, system-wide $481 million in sponsored-program expenditures. At the same time, the University had 166 new invention disclosures, 98 patents and 17 new licensing agreements.
“Research-what I call the ‘discover’ part of our mission-we do to a greater extent than every other public higher ed institution in the state-combined,” DiPietro said.
A video showed how one focus of UT Knoxville research is on enhancing national security by using drones to find radioactive sources, while another demonstrates the importance of a multi-disciplinary approach to improving society by studying the rise and fall of social institutions.
DiPietro also pointed to strengths in other areas, from self-limiting tuition increases to enrollment increases and retention growth.
After noting three consecutive years of holding tuition increases to 3 percent or lower, DiPietro vowed it will happen for a fourth year in 2018. He also said University efficiency enhancements and cost cutting have achieved $15.2 million savings in recurring funds. Enrollment has climbed and even broken records on some campuses, while the freshman-to-sophomore retention rate averages 81 percent system-wide. Graduation rates also are rising at every UT campus.
The video on education showed how UT helps its students – whether veterans or those who work with veterinarians – succeed. At UT Chattanooga, a Veterans Entrepreneurship Program helps those with military backgrounds translate their skills to the business world while at UT Martin, an online veterinarian technician program helps students move from an associate’s degree to a bachelor’s degree.
The University also connects to people across the state, helping to better their lives. The UT Institute of Agriculture and Institute for Public Service had more than 5 million contacts with Tennesseans statewide in 2017.
A video demonstrated how the Law Enforcement Innovation Center provides active shooter training to law enforcement officers while the UT Institute of Agriculture helps farmers with changing their practices to improve water quality, which enhances their livestock profitability.
“While we count our contacts, research dollars and graduation rates, statistics don’t tell the human story of what those numbers achieve: better opportunities, better jobs, better lives,” DiPietro said. “A better Tennessee for all Tennesseans.”