KNOXVILLE— Work on reunifying UT Knoxville and UT Institute of Agriculture continues as it does on planning for the Oak Ridge Institute, UT Interim President Randy Boyd informed UT Board of Trustees today.
During the annual meeting in June trustees approved the initiatives and requested progress reports for the fall meeting. Both initiatives seek to increase collaboration and to raise UT in national rankings.
Boyd said the UT Institute of Agriculture and UT Knoxville Land-grant Reunification Team hosted 39 listening sessions within the University and throughout the state as well as shared a survey with more than 5,000 individuals. The team compiled what they heard and survey results into a report submitted to Boyd, UT Knoxville Chancellor Donde Plowman and Senior Vice President/Senior Vice Chancellor Tim Cross.
“We have more great ideas than we can incorporate in the next five years,” Boyd said. “Now we need to prioritize them.”
After reviewing the report, Plowman and Cross are addressing UTIA funding issues and needs, resolving parking and transit issues and involving UT Institute of Agriculture in the UT Knoxville Strategic Visioning process. Boyd also created the UT Commission on Agriculture to help UT leaders hear directly from people, communities and industries involved in agriculture in order to better serve them.
“There are things that we can do now to make UT Institute of Agriculture and UT Knoxville stronger,” Boyd said.
Boyd also updated trustees on the ongoing planning for the Oak Ridge Institute (ORI). The institute seeks to capitalize on UT and Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL) long-standing partnership by recruiting 60 new UT researchers and 60 new ORNL scientists. It would grow the collaborative Ph.D. program to 500 students and would have a goal of attracting more than $150 million in researching funding.
“If we accomplish this, it would make UT a top 30 public research institution and lead to enhanced economic development opportunities for the region,” Boyd said. “I think 10 years from now this will be one of the biggest impacts that we could make.”
A 14-person steering committee with representation from UT and ORNL has held information session and developed foundational principals as well as a system of accountability to make sure the institute’s long-term goals will be met. Boyd said the committee will deliver its official recommendations by Dec. 31.
Boyd also informed trustees of positive momentum across the UT System, including exceeding Tennessee’s goals for bachelor’s degrees awarded by almost 450 degrees. UT awarded more than 12,000 degrees in 2018-19. More than 51,000 students enrolled at UT campuses this fall, which includes increased freshman enrollment: of .7 percent at UT Knoxville, 2.4 percent at Chattanooga and 1.5 percent at UT Martin. UT Knoxville saw an overall enrollment increase of 2 percent and UT Martin had an increase of 3.3 percent.
“Student debt remains lower than our peers and 46 percent of our students graduate from a UT institution without debt,” he said continuing sharing the University’s good news.
With the aid of UT Promise, that percentage could increase. UT Promise, which begins in fall of 2020, is a last-dollar scholarship program that guarantees free tuition and mandatory fees after other financial aid is received (such as Pell Grants, HOPE Scholarship or other institutional scholarships) for qualifying Tennessee undergraduate students, with a family household income of under $50,000, at UT Knoxville, UT Chattanooga, UT Martin and UT Health Science Center. Boyd toured the state in September and October visiting 14 high schools encouraging students there to apply at UT schools and for the UT Promise scholarship. More than 2,800 potential full-time freshmen have applied for the scholarship along with more than 500 students who currently attend a UT campus.
In his comments to the Board and audience, Board Chair John Compton reflected on the past year since the UT Board was reconstituted in 2018 under the UT FOCUS act. From listening to students, alumni, faculty, legislators and even neighbors to selecting an interim president, Compton said it has been a good first year
From checking with other board members to asking key legislators, Compton said he received positive feedback.
“Singularly the best accomplishment is having Randy Boyd serve as interim president,” Compton said. “As a Board, we will make few decisions that really matter. This is one that we will look back on that mattered.”
Trustees also approved a resolution allowing Chief Financial Officer David Miller to negotiate a sub-easement of six floors of office space in the TVA East Tower from Knox County. The final agreement will be submitted to the full board or to the Executive Committee for approval before being submitted to the Tennessee State Building Commission for final approval.
“This is a very rare opportunity,” Boyd said. “It’s still very close to campus and easily accessible.”
The Knox County Commission must still approve a lease agreement with TVA for the 12-story building before the University can begin negotiations with the county. If approved by all entities, UT would lease more than 105,000 square feet of space, which would allow the UT System to consolidate more than 250 staff members from four locations to one. Boyd said estimates the cost of relocating to the TVA East Tower for 20 years would be half the cost of finding alternative rental space for personnel at the UT Conference Center and renovating Andy Holt Tower. The lease’s base rate would be $1 per square foot per year with increases of 1 percent per year as well as annual operating expenses at less than $5 per square foot. The lease would require UT to improve the space at a cost of $125 or less per square foot.
Trustee Bill Rhodes called the move a wonderful idea.
“It’s really an elegant solution,” he said.
In other business, the board also approved:
- Promotion of Tiffany Carpenter, associate vice president of communication and marketing, to vice president for communications and marketing
- Appointment of Miller, chief financial officer, to senior vice president and chief financial officer
- Appointment of Cynthia Moore as secretary and special counsel as of Jan. 1, 2020, replacing current Secretary, Chief of Staff and Special Counsel Catherine Mizell, who is retiring at the end of the year
- Bylaw amendments
- Annual report to the General Assembly
- Proposed revisions to the Board Tenure Policy related to early tenure
- New B.S. in Pharmaceutical Sciences at UTHSC
- Tenure recommendations requiring Board approval
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 387,000 alumni around the world.