2021 State of UT
UT President Randy Boyd delivered his third State of the University Address on March 26, 2021.
Full Transcript[Randy Boyd, Voiceover:]
The past year has been one of unprecedented challenges but it did not defeat us, rather, it defined us.
We’re still feeling the effects of a global pandemic, intense political division, and instances of social unrest.
Times like these can make a team fall apart or come together.
In all 95 counties, the University of Tennessee System has come together, seeing this time as an opportunity to dig deep and redefine our values … to remember our mission of serving every Tennessean … to explore novel ways of delivering classes, services, and assistance … to see how we can bridge gaps, fill voids, find solutions, and improve life in our great state.
With campuses in Knoxville, Chattanooga, and Martin; the Health Science Center in Memphis; the Space Institute in Tullahoma; and the statewide Institute of Agriculture and Institute for Public Service, the UT System has the ability to be a powerful force for positive change.
We have the intellectual capital, the geographic reach, and the sustainability to give us the ability to take on the grand challenges and to change things for the better in our communities, throughout our state, across our country and around our world.
The pandemic may have kept us physically apart – masked up, social distanced, and often connected virtually rather than in person – but it hasn’t changed who we are or what we want to be.
In recent months, we’ve set out to reiterate our mission in a fresh, new way.
To be successful, organizations need four things – a compelling mission that is both inspiring and aspiring; a strategy to get there; great people; and a set of values that define you and your culture.
This past year, we traveled the state and talked to our faculty, staff, students and administrators on each campus. We asked them to describe the traits that make UT what it is – and what it should be. We used their feedback to come up with a list of seven values that fit into a memorable acronym: Be One UT.
Be One UT … There’s a lot of meaning in that little phrase. Not only is it built on our values, it also underscores the importance of working together, as a team, to bring these values to life.
Going forward, we want to live and breathe these values. We want our stakeholders to hear them over and over…and see us walking the talk.
One of the most inspiring moments I’ve had in recent weeks came when I was talking to the SGA president at UT Chattanooga. I shared our Be One UT values with him. The SGA president looked at me and said, “These are values I want to carry with me all of my life.”
With our Be One UT values in mind, we’re going to build on initiatives already in place and blaze new trails to make this our greatest decade yet.
Now, I invite you to travel the state with me to hear our university leadership talk about how we’re already putting our values to work.
Bold and Impactful
As we talked to our UT family about our mission, what we heard time and time again was their desire to have a “transformational impact” and to serve. The reason you come to UT to study or work is to make a difference.
Education is the key to our state’s growth and success. Education has a transformational impact on individuals and on society
That’s why the UT System is taking a bold and impactful step to increase access to affordable higher education for all Tennesseans. We have started the process to acquire Martin Methodist College, a 150-year-old private college in Pulaski, Tennessee. Once approved by the state Legislature and educational oversight boards, Martin Methodist will become UT Southern — our first new UT campus in 50 years.
Our state’s economic future depends on a strong, well-trained workforce. We depend on Tennessee’s bright young minds to be our future leaders. That starts by offering world-class education opportunities close to home.
High school graduates in southern Middle Tennessee don’t have a lot of nearby college options; there are no four-year Tennessee public institutions in the nearly 300-mile stretch from Chattanooga to Memphis along the southern border of Tennessee.
UT Southern is going to help open doors for our region’s students, the community of Pulaski, and our UT System.
Diversity has always been one of our key values. And when we say “diversity,” we mean it in the broadest sense – race, religion, gender, and thought. Diversity is understanding that we must be open and civil even when we have different opinions on issues.
Within UT, we have tremendous diversity between our campuses. Each campus has a different mission. Those differences add value to the whole. As we work together, we achieve more than we could ever achieve on our own.
But any discussion of diversity must also acknowledge the issues we’re still facing as a society.
America continues to struggle with racism and social injustice. And, unfortunately, several recent incidents have put law enforcement in the center of the controversy.
Our Institute for Public Service is home to the nation’s premier law enforcement training academy – the Law Enforcement Innovation Center.
Over the past 15 years, LEIC has trained more than 50,000 law enforcement officers representing more than 4,000 law enforcement agencies across the country and around the world in everything from homeland security to forensic science to command and leadership to cybercrime. In short, the LEIC is a trusted resource in teaching law enforcement officers what they need to know to do their jobs well.
This past year, LEIC launched its Cultural Competency and Policing Program – training to minimize biased-based policing in law enforcement.
LEIC worked with the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles to create a national certification program for law enforcement agencies across Tennessee and nationwide. This training seeks to increase diversity in law enforcement and examine perceptions, stereotypes, and cultural assumptions.
The program began this spring with training for all UT police departments. Next, the program will expand to law enforcement officers throughout the state. About 400 law enforcement agencies across Tennessee will have the opportunity to experience this training. After that, we’ll open up the training to law enforcement agencies nationwide.
Optimistic and Visionary
One of the lessons we’ve learned from challenges of the past year is that nature is life-affirming.
Being outside, enjoying our beautiful state has helped many of us stay healthy: Physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Social distancing isn’t so bad when you’re in a kayak or a paddleboard or walking along a riverbank.
Tennessee’s parks, rivers, lakes and trails are a treasured resource, a place for relaxation and recreation. They are also a key part of our regional travel and tourism.
To celebrate – and elevate – our state waterways, UT is leading an optimistic and visionary effort called the Tennessee RiverLine.
Started in 2016 in UT Knoxville’s School of Landscape Architecture, which is housed jointly in the College of Architecture and Design and the Herbert College of Agriculture, the Tennessee RiverLine is inspiring communities across the state to invest in economic development, healthy lifestyles, and environmental stewardship.
Last fall, the first 15 Tennessee RiverTowns were chosen. These partners will help celebrate the Tennessee River, as well as build opportunities for more people to experience its wonder.
Nimble and Innovative
We began 2020 hoping to start the “best decade in the history of UT.”
As we all know, 2020 didn’t go as we hoped or planned. COVID-19 turned our world upside down.
For the past year, we’ve been traveling an uncertain course. We’ve kept moving forward by being nimble and innovative.
As we’ve traveled through this pandemic, we’ve kept the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff as our priorities.
We launched a system-wide COVID-19 website and dashboard to keep our campuses and the public informed. It received a top rating by The New York Times.
We secured a single testing contract for all campuses, and our campuses worked together to develop safety measures for their communities. These efforts paid off. In the fall, we had a system-wide positivity rate for students of only .22%. That means our students were nine times safer than the general population of Tennesseans ages 17- to 25-years-old, who had a 2.07% positivity rate.
Our UT family also found ways to help in the fight against the virus.
As the pandemic began to unfold nationally and internationally, the UT Health Science Center stepped forward as the state’s public academic health care institution to combat the virus.
In mid-March 2020, the Health Science Center’s College of Medicine joined with the Shelby County Health Department and the city of Memphis to open the city’s first large-scale public drive-through COVID-19 testing site at the Mid-South Fairgrounds. Medical and nursing students staffed a call center, triaging individuals and scheduling appointments. In late March, the College of Medicine opened a lab to analyze COVID-19 test samples to speed up diagnoses. The College of Medicine also produced a training video on the proper protocol for collecting test samples that was used by hospitals, clinical care providers, and testing sites across the state.
The Plough Center for Sterile Manufacturing at UT Health Science Center made hand sanitizer for distribution.
The Health Science Center, UT Knoxville, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory used the Summit supercomputer to simulate, identify, and test therapeutics.
In September 2020, the Health Science Center and Regional One Health partnered on a clinical trial evaluating Regeneron’s investigational two-antibody mixture for the treatment and prevention of COVID-19. The two institutions also established a post-COVID-19 clinic to provide outpatient follow-up care to people experiencing long-term symptoms after recovery.
By October 2020, Health Science Center researchers, working with colleagues at the University of New Mexico, identified three drugs, already approved for other uses in humans, as possible therapeutics for COVID-19.
[Thomas Zacharia:] Now, the Health Science Center is working with Moderna to test the efficacy of its vaccine against new emerging strains of the virus. Meanwhile, a team at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Health Science Center are helping improve at-home testing that can be done with a simple breath of air.
At UT Knoxville, the Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research is keeping tabs on how COVID-19 is affecting our state’s economy. The UT Libraries are working on a history project, collecting submissions from faculty, staff, and students to chronicle for future generations what it was like to live through a global pandemic. Faculty and students have collaborated on research about how COVID-19 is impacting everything from food consumption to workplace design.
UT Knoxville materials science professor Peter Tsai, who was instrumental in developing the N95 mask years ago, came out of retirement to help develop a way of sterilizing the masks so they could be reused.
UT Knoxville also partnered with the Knox County Health Department to host a public COVID-19 vaccination clinic.
The Institute for Public Service developed a COVID-19 dashboard to help municipalities, business and industry, and others deal with issues related to the pandemic. The Center for Industrial Services UT urged businesses to review their production capabilities to see if they could help produce medical devices critical in the fight against COVID-19.
Across our system, our UT family has been raising money, delivering supplies, 3D printing personal protective gear, and finding other ways to help their communities through the pandemic.
Like everyone else, we’re eager to see life on our campuses return to some semblance of “normal” in the fall. Even as it does, though, we are confident the pandemic’s lessons have made us stronger, more nimble, and more innovative.
Excel in All We Do
From pre-kindergarten through high school, there are almost 1 million students in Tennessee.
Training teachers and administrators – especially those in rural and underserved areas – are among the most significant ways UT serves our state.
UT Chattanooga and UT Knoxville partnered with local school districts and the Tennessee Department of Education to offer “Grow Your Own” programs to encourage more students to pursue teaching careers.
The Vols Teach for Appalachia program aims to remedy the ongoing shortage of math and science teachers in the heart of Appalachia. UT Knoxville and Pellissippi State Community College partnered with five school districts to increase and diversify east Tennessee’s educational workforce by supporting community college students who want to become STEM teachers
Meanwhile, at UT Martin, the WestTeach program provides professional development to help teachers become leaders in their schools and communities.
Also, at UT Martin, the “Call Me MiSTER” program recruits and trains students from underrepresented backgrounds to become master teachers. The program offers tuition assistance, housing, loan forgiveness, an academic success support system, and job placement assistance.
UT Knoxville led the state Department of Education’s 2020 Tennessee Rural Principals Network, a year-long professional development program for 54 rural school principals from across Tennessee. UT Knoxville’s Center for Educational Leadership also partnered with the state education department to provide free virtual training to help principals deal with the challenges their schools have been facing due to the pandemic.
United and Connected
The pandemic has shown us how important the internet has become to our daily life.
Grandkids stayed in touch with grandparents via Facetime. We ordered our groceries online. We used telemedicine and virtual mental health appointments if we couldn’t get to our doctors’ offices. When in-person school classes stopped, virtual learning took over. Hundreds of thousands of Tennessee students went to school online for at least part of the last year.
Households without the internet were at a significant disadvantage, forcing communities and school districts to confront our country’s great digital divide.
Governor Bill Lee has said he wants to expand high-speed internet access across the state. Experts have said the first step should be creating accurate maps showing where Tennesseans without internet access live.
From Knoxville to Martin, UT is already helping increase connectivity statewide.
UT Martin’s WestStar — a leadership program for West Tennessee — has encouraged conversations about broadband expansion in that region.
The UT Institute for Public Service is also working on a statewide panel pulling together experts to help city and county officials improve access to broadband.
And, in the Herbert College of Agriculture at UT Knoxville, Assistant Professor Sreedhar Upendram is working on an initiative through University Extension that brings broadband internet to underserved rural communities across Tennessee.
The work started in Wayne County when Professor Upendram helped secure funds to purchase a set of mobile wireless hotspots for the area’s library. Library patrons could check out these devices for two to three days at no cost; all they had to do was complete a survey about their internet needs.
The library hotspot project is now active in seven counties, and Professor Upendram is also overseeing a two-year digital literacy skills project in 64 counties.
Transparent and Trusted
In the two-plus years I’ve been privileged to lead the UT System, I have traveled the state to talk to our stakeholders.
Those conversations continue to reaffirm what I’ve known since I attended UT Knoxville as a first-generation college student: UT is more than a collection of colleges. It’s part of the state fabric, a vital partner to all Tennesseans.
Whether you graduated from one of our campuses, attended some sort of training we offered, received assistance from our Extension service or Institute for Public Service, or simply heard about our latest research, UT has touched your life. Truly, everywhere you look, UT!
So when we say “Be One UT,” we’re not just talking about us. We’re talking about you. Us. All Tennesseans.
We’re vested in each other.
The most fundamental thing in any such relationship is trust. It’s the key to success.
And the way you earn trust is being transparent. Even more than that, you’ve got to be proactive in sharing the truth.
Our stakeholders need to know what we are as a university system …. And what we aspire to be. We need to continue to demonstrate that we are good stewards of state dollars. And we need to constantly find new, impactful ways of fulfilling our missions of education, research, and outreach.
Early on in my presidency, we launched the “Transparent UT” initiative and formed a Transparency Advisory Group to help guide and inform our efforts.
From that, we developed the Transparent UT website. If you haven’t visited the site, I urge you to take a look.
The past year wasn’t what any of us expected. It proved to be a challenging journey and a greater learning experience than we could have ever imagined.
And despite that – or maybe because of it – our UT family is more excited and more prepared than it’s ever been to move forward and help shape a better future.
As we close, we want to offer a heartfelt “Thank you.” We are grateful to YOU for your hard work, your can-do attitude, your ideas, and your ongoing support. You inspire us and help us do our best work every day.
From Knoxville to Memphis, from Chattanooga to Martin, from Tullahoma to – hopefully soon – Pulaski, we are committed to … Be One UT.
Learn more about the Be One UT values →