2017 State of the University Address (Full Remarks)
Good afternoon and welcome.
Thank you, Anne for that introduction, and for your passion and commitment to the University of Tennessee.
And, thank you to the distinguished guests with us in Nashville and to everyone watching online to learn more about the state of your university.
It is my privilege to be with you today for the second annual State of the University address.
This is a dynamic time at the University of Tennessee.
We have strong leaders in place – some who have been here for several years, such as UT Health Science Chancellor Steve Schwab and UT Chattanooga Chancellor Steve Angle –
And three new leaders – UT Martin Chancellor Keith Carver and UT Institute of Agriculture Chancellor Tim Cross — both of whom took office on January 1 — and UT Knoxville Chancellor Beverly Davenport, who has been on the job for about a week.
These new leaders bring excitement and a new perspective to our longstanding mission to educate, discover and connect for the benefit of all Tennesseans.
I’m proud to be part of an institution uniquely charged with that mission.
I’m also proud to be part of a community of faculty, staff, students and alumni with a commitment to respect one another and value different ideas.
As members of the UT family, we can model our approach to civility, tolerance and understanding on one of the most respected and revered UT graduates of all time: the late Senator Howard Baker.
As Senator Baker once said in a speech to Congress, “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.”
Respect for other viewpoints, Senator Baker also said, is important because, “The other fellow may be right.”
It’s no secret that we currently find ourselves in a polarized, somewhat turbulent time in American life. Yet, I urge every member of the UT family to join me in seeing the window of opportunity I believe exists for us and the University.
That opportunity is for us to lead by example.
We are the University of Tennessee, Knoxville….UT Chattanooga….UT Martin….the UT Health Science Center…the Institute of Agriculture…and the Institute for Public Service. We are almost 50,000 students, 12,000 employees, and 370,000 alumni.
And yet—We are one.
We’re stronger as one than we could be separately.
There isn’t a county in the state we don’t touch, not an elected district we don’t serve.
The UT system remains united, structurally; and in uniting around the ideas of open-mindedness and respect for those with differing viewpoints, we can refute the notion that civil discourse is no more.
Campus environments that make all students feel welcome and valued are major factors in retention and graduation. Because change has been involved in trying to fully create those kinds of environments at UT, there has been some tension.
I understand that.
Navigating change can be challenging.
Some may debate the degree to which the world is changing in terms of diversity, but the reality of that change is a fact.
And diversity in the world is much more than black and white.
Diversity encompasses many aspects—gender, sexual orientation, religious belief, geography, physical ability, socioeconomic status, military veteran status, and family educational attainment, among others.
Respect for differing viewpoints, recognition of other perspectives, and understanding the diversity of people enables our students to grow in ways that better prepare them for the workforce.
Companies across the state – and around the world – tell us they want a diverse and talented workforce.
We’re producing graduates that businesses want, with the ability to thrive in diverse workplace environments. That’s part of our leadership in developing the workforce Tennessee needs to attract industry and investment.
And thanks to the vision and leadership of Governor Bill Haslam, Tennessee has achieved a nationally recognized focus on workforce development through educational attainment.
In fact, I believe we are living in a transformational time. 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.
Mission and Metrics
When it comes to fulfilling our mission to educate, discover and connect, we’re firing on all cylinders.
We are graduating more students.
We are finding solutions that make a difference in people’s lives.
And we are conducting outreach that enhances quality of life for all Tennessean.
As proud as I am of these achievements, they don’t fully tell the story of the exceptionally high-performing institutions of the UT System.
I’m excited about Dr. Davenport’s arrival. She is an energetic, talented and highly accomplished leader.
She inherits a university exceptionally well-positioned for the future by her predecessor, Dr. Jimmy Cheek, to whom I am grateful for his eight remarkable years of service as chancellor.
In the midst of a $1 billion makeover, the Knoxville campus has had record-breaking fundraising achievements and continues to receive national accolades as a top academic institution.
U.S. News & World Report’s most recent annual list of the nation’s best colleges put UT Knoxville at 46th nationally – up a spot over the previous year. And that’s only one of numerous, prestigious rankings for the campus and many of its colleges in 2016.
As a workplace, UT Knoxville also was named by Forbes magazine in 2016 as one of the top 20 places nationally to work in higher ed.
On the research front, UT Knoxville is making great strides. Just last week, the campus announced it has received nearly $10 million in research awards in the area of nuclear security alone.
At UT Chattanooga, Chancellor Steve Angle sees the city and Southeast Tennessee as a lab where students work with faculty, staff and business partners to apply classroom learning to real-world problems to make graduates job ready.
He is leveraging partnerships with the UT College of Medicine’s Chattanooga campus to enhance student research opportunities; and a partnership with the UT Health Science Center and Erlanger Medical Center for a new physician’s assistant program.
UTC also received top rankings among Southern master’s level universities and among Best Colleges for Veterans from U.S. News & World Report in 2016; along with being named among the 50 most disability-friendly universities in the nation.
To say the last 12 months at UT Martin have been interesting is an understatement. There have been challenges. There have been successes. And just a few weeks ago, there was even a change in leadership.
Be assured of this: There was never a doubt in my mind that, ultimately, UT Martin would soar.
Just last fall, UT Martin received its single-largest gift in school history, making it possible for the campus to build a much-needed STEM building.
Martin had more good news in December, when SACS removed the campus from a 12-month probationary status and reaffirmed its full accreditation.
All the while, UT Martin continued to receive high praise from organizations like U.S. News & World Report for its degree programs.
They are poised under the leadership of Chancellor Keith Carver to be the economic driver in northwest Tennessee.
UT Health Science Center
While research and outreach are functions of every UT campus – to some degree – their combination at the UT Health Science Center make it both an academic and an economic powerhouse.
Under Chancellor Steve Schwab’s leadership, the Health Science Center continues growing its footprint in Memphis and across the state with more than 100 clinical and educational sites throughout Tennessee.
And its programs continue to win national praise and attention.
For instance, the College of Pharmacy is ranked 17th nationally.
And not quite a year ago, the 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. Everything from CT scans to drug treatment can be done on board, saving critical time and bypassing the Emergency Room once at the hospital.
The “connect” part of our mission – providing outreach – is even more than mission for many of us. We are consumed by a need to deliver solutions that change people’s lives.
All across the state, UT has front doors people can walk through to get help: County extension offices. Experiment stations. 4-H centers. IPS offices.
We’re the only institution in Tennessee connected to help all Tennesseans. And our people will make it happen. In every county in the state.
Chancellor Tim Cross and the UT Institute of Agriculture stepped up after the wildfire that ravaged Gatlinburg, the Great Smoky Mountains, and other parts of East Tennessee in November.
Veterinary care. Donated food and supplies UT Forestry students fighting fires. A resource of information. The Institute’s contributions highlighted the diversity of its expertise and resources, and its unity of purpose in reaching out where there was a need.
As these communities heal, the Institute of Agriculture will continue to provide assistance. And so will other entities within the UT System, as several already have.
At our Institute for Public Service, Herb Byrd has just completed his first year as head of the one UT entity solely focused on outreach, and it was a strong one.
In the most recent fiscal year, IPS agencies answered almost 30,000 requests for assistance and training – and served more than 15,000 law enforcement officials, local and state government employees, and businesses.
IPS helped create or retain over 14,000 jobs and generate almost $1.3 billion in economic impact for Tennessee.
Economic Impact: The Role of Higher Education
Without question, higher education improves lives at the individual level – those we graduate, and those they serve – and at the statewide level as fuel for Tennessee’s economic engine.
The University of Tennessee is one of this state’s most powerful vehicles for advancing both its economic agenda and quality of life.
System-wide, UT has a $4.8 billion impact on the state.
But we also exist for that noble purpose I talked about earlier—to enable Tennessee citizens to achieve their full potential.
Changing the Business Model
Of course, we can’t do that without resources, and about three years ago, there was a big resource problem on our long-term horizon. We discovered a projected annual funding shortfall of $377 million in 2025. Clearly, that had to be addressed if we were to continue meeting the needs of those we serve.
I wasn’t going to kick the can down the road for the next guy in this job.
I wasn’t going to look outside the University for the solution.
And I wasn’t going to allow tuition increases to be used to close the funding gap.
I formed a special task force – my Budget Advisory Group – to look at how we could cut costs and increase revenues outside usual state resources and tuition increases.
To hold down tuition increases, we had to look hard at cutting costs or increasing revenue elsewhere. We have.
We estimate the funding gap will be reduced by nearly $118 million at year-end.
This is the result of cutting costs and increasing efficiencies.
We’ve also been helped by unforeseen increases in state funding, thanks to the governor and the general assembly.
As a matter of fact, I have to say we’re really excited about the governor’s budget proposal for this year. It’s one of the best budgets for higher education since I’ve seen.
As for our work to maximize available resources – I’m proud UT is a national leader in proactive efforts to hold down tuition increases.
We self-limited tuition increases starting in 2015.
In 2016, for the second straight year, tuition increases were 3 percent or less. That’s the lowest in more than three decades.
And I can assure you we’ll make it three years in a row in 2017.
At a time when stories of high student debt make headlines, 46 percent of UT undergraduates finish with a bachelor’s and without debt.
For those who graduate with debt, it’s around $24,000, on average. And those with a college degree have as much as a 7-figure increased lifetime earning potential.
A UT education remains a wise investment.
And yet these messages sometimes fail to take center stage in our communities or among our policymakers when we talk about the University of Tennessee. We need your advocacy for our already-successful efforts to provide high-quality education and outreach for all Tennesseans while holding down costs and self-limiting tuition increases. We’d appreciate your support spreading the word that we are educating, discovering and connecting at a level not seen since the leadership of UT greats Ed Boling and Joe Johnson.
The quality of our students continues to increase, and we continue to make progress in our research and outreach programs for the benefit of all Tennesseans.
In fact, the University of Tennessee is woven into the fabric of life throughout this state.
We have a powerful brand, and an unmatched reputation for quality, flagship research, and delivering outreach like nobody else. Period.
And wherever you go in Tennessee, you find something else that sets us apart: the palpable affinity, love and support for our institution and its many components.
Thomas Edison said, “The value of a college education is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think.”
My hope and expectation is that our students will be enriched by their lifetime investment in academic achievement. That our alumni remain steadfast in sharing their voices and support for the University of Tennessee. That those of us in higher education continue to set high standards for ourselves and our students and encourage growth of mind and community. Finally, that we always live and are known by what we say and do, even when there may be ripples among the waves.
The state of your university is strong, and united.
Indeed, We are One.