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Becoming One: The UT System Celebrates 50 Years

Category: Outreach

UT president emeritus Joe Johnson

On the occasion of the UT System’s 50th anniversary, UT president emeritus Joe Johnson wrote the following editorial, which was published in several Tennessee newspapers this week.

For 50 years, the University of Tennessee — made up of many parts — has moved with one voice for the good of its students, faculty, alumni and state. On July 1, 1968, the parts became one as a system.

Dr. Andy Holt, who served as president of UT-Knoxville, also oversaw UT’s reach, which touched west Tennessee with campuses in Martin and Memphis and central Tennessee with the Space Institute. The Municipal Technical Advisory Service and the UT Center for Industrial Services assisted local governments and businesses throughout the state. (The Institute for Public Service was formed in 1971 and the Tennessee legislature created the County Technical Assistance Service in 1973.) Negotiations were underway to bring the University of Chattanooga into the UT family—which happened in 1969—and to create the UT Institute of Agriculture in Knoxville, which happened in 1968. Dr. Holt established the University’s first ties to Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

While the University’s reach expanded across the state, the UT Knoxville student body grew from 10,000 students to about 15,000 students. Dr. Holt was hands-on responsible for overseeing it all.

We began looking at the growth and the number of campuses and institutes that spanned the length and breadth of Tennessee. Dr. Holt, along with Dr. Ed Boling and others decided we could be more efficient: if we, centrally, provided legal staff, coordinated fundraising and campus planning, managed endowments and oversaw fiscal responsibility. We also knew UT could present a united front in working with the legislature. We knew we could provide services centrally that each campus and institute wouldn’t have to do on its own.

Three consultants — all heads of university systems — recommended that we form the University of Tennessee into a system. Dr. Holt and Dr. Boling worked successfully to sell the plan internally and externally.

Dr. Holt and all of us believed that centrally we had to bring something of value to the campuses. We were not there to be a deterrent. We were not there to be a hurdle to get over. We would be together as one. We would present a coordinated and cohesive front with one voice. Each entity fills a different niche and allows us to reach another area of the state, to help its residents and to make a difference in the lives there. Together, we educate, discover and connect.

Today, we continue to have a presence in all 95 counties. We have more than 370,000 alumni worldwide, including 220,000 in the state of Tennessee, and each year UT sends about 10,000 additional graduates into the world. We rank among the top universities in the world for patents for our discoveries. We connected with more than 5 million Tennesseans last year. Truly, everywhere you look in Tennessee, UT is educating and helping.

Dr. Holt’s idea 50 years ago thrives today. We are one. We are UT.

Joe Johnson is the president emeritus of the University of Tennessee system.

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Category: Outreach