2018 State of the University Address (Full Remarks)
Thank you to the distinguished guests with us here in Nashville and to everyone watching online.
Thank you, especially, to the more than 11,000 University of Tennessee employees statewide.
You make the University’s impact both real and possible.
It’s my privilege to share with you my third annual State of the University address.
Why does this message matter?
What makes the state of the University of Tennessee important?
Even to those who aren’t UT students or employees?
It’s important because ours is a unique mission, distinct from any other public or private institution of higher learning in Tennessee.
As a land-grant institution, the University of Tennessee exists to make higher education accessible, and to find solutions that improve people’s lives.
We’ve been doing that for more than 150 years, ever since federal law established land-grant universities.
At a time when higher education was reserved for the elite, the Morrill Act opened it to all.
Land-grants, like the University of Tennessee, have changed the trajectory of lives, families, and generations.
We make excellent higher education accessible.
We make discoveries that solve problems.
We connect with all Tennesseans through outreach.
And that’s why the stronger the state of the University, the better for the state of Tennessee.
And today, I can proudly report that the state of our University is very strong.
We are well-positioned to ensure access for current and future generations of Tennesseans, thanks to our highly effective work on cost containment and stewardship of resources.
For the past three years, we have self-limited tuition increases with unprecedented success.
In 2017, we marked the third straight year of holding a tuition increase at or below 3 percent. That had never happened before since the UT System was established in 1968.
In 2018, we will do it again.
We’ve achieved efficiency gains and cut costs toward $15.2 million in savings of recurring funds.
That represents a lot of work by our faculty, staff and administration, and I am grateful for that.
We’re also grateful for the confidence of Governor Bill Haslam and the legislature shown by the strong appropriations of recent years.
That funding has been critical to delivering the excellent education and vital outreach Tennesseans need and expect from us.
Enrollment is climbing and breaking records on campuses across the UT system.
Freshman-to-sophomore retention averages 81 percent system-wide, and graduation rates continue to climb on every campus.
We are creating programs that reach students where they are and teaching them how to apply previous experience in entrepreneurial ways.
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!
In 2017, we achieved nearly a half-billion dollars in research and sponsored program expenditures system-wide.
That’s an all-time record for us.
In the same period, we were involved in 166 new invention disclosures, 98 patents and 17 new licensing agreements.
And for 2018, our foot is on the gas pedal and we’re not letting up.
That’s because we know that every time our research enterprise grows or achieves a new breakthrough, it benefits our students, our faculty and the state’s economy.
But for most of our fellow Tennesseans going about their daily lives, what matters about our research is that we solved a problem or made life better for them.
We do plenty of that, in some incredible ways.
And while the highlights I’ve mentioned are historic, where we really set ourselves apart at the University of Tennessee is in the Outreach part of our mission-what I mean when I say “Connect.”
The UT Institute of Agriculture and the Institute for Public Service are the front porch of our University, in every county.
In 2017, they opened our doors to provide more than 5 million outreach contacts to Tennesseans across the state.
Without them, we couldn’t fulfill our land-grant responsibilities to solve problems that make people’s lives better.
And while we count our contacts, research dollars, and graduation rates, statistics don’t tell the human story of what those numbers achieve:
A better Tennessee for all Tennesseans.
Solving complex problems
As important as each of our three mission pillars are, we don’t necessarily fulfill them separately.
In fact, our work to educate, discover and connect often overlaps: Education can involve research, research can yield discovery, and that discovery can make life better.
When we combine all three of those life-changing tools into one powerful force, focused on a problem from all sides at once, transformational change is possible.
Even in taking on the thorniest of social problems. Like opioid addiction.
It has the nation in its grip, and we feel it in Tennessee.
At the University of Tennessee, we’re wrapping all three arms of our mission around this problem.
It’s exactly the kind of challenge that land-grant, research universities are made to take on.
And it’s a problem of such complexity and consequence, it will require all we can do to overcome it.
Which is why we are confronting it with our strengths in education, discovery and connecting with people.
A problem as pervasive and insidious as opioid addiction can’t be overcome with a single solution. The state of Tennessee is fortunate to have the resources of our University to apply to this terrible problem.
We’re proud to be a partner, and we’re giving it all we’ve got.
And now, in closing, I want to point out that this presentation became a new and important tradition in my time as president of the statewide University of Tennessee system.
As many of you know, I became the 25th president of the University in January 2011.
Just as I do now, the 24 UT presidents who precede me mark points of the University’s history dating back more than 200 years.
To hold this job is to serve on a bridge over time.
From that bridge, you connect the past to the present…you bring together people of diverse backgrounds, and you work to ignite in them a passion for success.
Looking back, I see a lot of success we can be proud of.
Looking ahead, I see a lot more I have yet to do, because we at the University of Tennessee have a lot more to do.
Wherever you live in Tennessee, wherever you look, we’ll be there.
Educating more generations of Tennesseans.
Achieving more scientific breakthroughs.
Revving up our economic engine.
Solving more problems.
Our University is strong.
And the stronger the state of this University, the stronger the state of Tennessee.
Because everywhere you look, UT.