State of the University

March 5, 2014


Thank you for coming this morning.  Today is March 5th, just a few days after the one year anniversary of my being named Chancellor of The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.  I did not actually start until early July –what a wonderful 8 months we have had in Chattanooga.  Starting a job like this is a bit like drinking from a fire hose and it has not slowed yet.  I have learned so much—the most important thing being I have so much more to learn.  Keep the water coming!

My family and I are establishing roots here and becoming part of this community.  Dominique and I look forward to seeing our second grader Ian and kindergartner Zoë graduate from high school here.  We are Chattanoogans. We are Mocs and we love UTC.

Since our founding in 1886, the fate and future of Chattanooga’s University has been intimately tied to Chattanooga.  This has never been truer than it is today.

UTC will grow synergistically and achieve greatness together with Chattanooga and our region.

I am so grateful to our two mayor:  Andy Berke and Jim Coppinger—for being here today and for what they do each and every day for this community, our region and for education.  UTC is fortunate to have such strong, visionary partners.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga motto is “we shall achieve.”  My comments today are about Achieving Excellence.  That is our goal; that is our commitment.

Today’s presentation offers an overview of where we are and, more importantly, where we are going.

There are two reasons this event is downtown at the Hunter Museum—not on campus.  First, UTC is Chattanooga’s university and we are more than a place on the hill; we are your partner and we work together.  Second, I want to stress the importance of the arts.  Chattanooga is home to a creative core that encourages innovation, imagination, and intellectual curiosity.  The Arts are not a luxury; they are a requirement for Achieving Excellence.

I want to thank UT President Joe DiPietro, who in a short period of time has embraced and encouraged our campus to be the best in everything that we do.  Thank you!

I also want to acknowledge the University of Chattanooga Foundation. Would all current and former members of the University of Chattanooga Foundation Board please stand? Thank you for all you have done for UC and UTC.

UTC is so fortunate to be part of such a generous, giving community.  Chattanooga is a rich community—rich in human capital, people who care about each other and work every day to make this an even better place to live.

As we look to the future, we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us.

Our former Chancellors are the first to point to the many dedicated people who work as a team to fulfill the mission of the university.  And their leadership by example has meant so much to this institution—I want to acknowledge them.

Thanks to Chancellors Fred Obear, Bill Stacy, and Roger Brown.  Each of them was the right person at the right time and I am honored to follow in their footsteps.

Thank you.

I also want to mention someone who is no longer with us, Chancellor Grady Bogue who guided UTC through a time of transition from 2012 to 2013 with great skill and foresight.  He was truly a giant in higher education leadership both in practice and study.  We sorely miss Chancellor Bogue.  In a brief period of time, he left a lasting imprint on UTC.

For the past six years UTC has been implementing our 2008-2013 strategic plan, a plan encouraged by Chancellor Roger Brown.

I want to mention just a few of the accomplishments of our 2008-2013 strategic plan:

  • UTC was named to the Carnegie elective classification as a community engaged institution - among the first universities in Tennessee to earn this honor.
  • The President’s Honor Roll for Community Service with distinction
  • ThinkAchieve, a quality enhancement program for students, focusing on critical thinking and experiential learning
  • New degree programs, including an on-line initiative that encourages working adults with some college credits to complete a degree. Chemical Engineering, Civil Engineering, Occupational Therapy, Integrated Studies and a Doctor of Nurse Practice
  • Four new buildings and renovation of seven others
  • The number of online courses offered increased by 685 percent
  • The number of degrees awarded increased by 37 percent

These are just a few of our accomplishments.  A final report on the 2008-2013 Strategic Plan results will be available online later this week.

The UTC campus and the community should be proud of what has been accomplished over the past six years.  To all who had a role in formulating this plan - we celebrate your success.

Student Success, retention and graduation rates were a major part of this plan and while we are on track to improve retention and graduation rates, we cannot be satisfied with where we are.  We have to be committed to doing even more.  The lives of our students and future of our community depend on each of us stepping up and Achieving Excellence.

Plotting a course for the future

Where are we going and how will we get there?

Tennessee has had two recent governors focus on education and in particular higher education.

Governor Haslam’s Drive to 55 means that we have to have a laser-like focus on student success.  And his plan is about more than hitting a number. It is about equipping our young people for the opportunities of the future.

Governor Haslam’s new education initiative, the Tennessee Promise will provide even greater access to higher education opportunities in Tennessee.

So, our focus at UTC is on our priorities—students and an excellent education that equips them for the future.

And when we say—Achieve Excellence—how high do we set our sights?

In the past, Chattanooga faced severe environmental issues, a polluted river and a deteriorating downtown – this community came together and decided to embrace a different future—we are accomplishing the impossible Chattanooga!

As we plan ahead, we will follow the Chattanooga example and dream big, set our sights high with the confidence of achievement.

If we grow in synergy with our community, we can accomplish so much more.

UTC is a great institution that can partner with local governments, businesses, educational institutions, non-profits, and others in our region to ensure that Southeast Tennessee maintains the positive trend in economic and social development.  We also will draw on the strength of the University of Tennessee System to address areas where we lack the required expertise and depth. And form partnerships with Chattanooga State, Cleveland State and other higher education institutions so there is a seamless transition for achieving a quality education. We are here to serve our students and our community.

The impact of the University of Tennessee on the state of Tennessee is huge!

In addition to UTC, Chattanooga is home to the Chattanooga campus of the UT College of Medicine. There are 148 third and fourth year medical students, 174 residents, 103 full time faculty and 354 clinical faculty here - in Chattanooga!

As we chart our course for the future, all of the metrics - enrollment, finances, student success, faculty achievement - are positive.  We are in a growing vibrant community that knows a great community has a great university.  We understand that statement and are putting it into practice.

We are active participants in Thrive for 2055, Chattanooga Forward and Pathways to Prosperity.  We are engaged in the planning for a renewal of MLK, one of the streets that serves as an entrance to the campus.  And our campus leadership, faculty, staff, and students are involved in the life of our community.

Over the past eight months, I have witnessed the planets being aligned for success.  What a great time to come here and be an active player in the next chapters of the Chattanooga story.

Development of a New Strategic Plan

We will focus on student success and how that translates into a successful community.  We will strive for excellence in all we do.

As we develop our new strategic plan we will address some key questions.  Let me share a few of them.  I hope that in the ensuing days and weeks, you will share your thoughts with me and our planning team.

We will Revisit Our Mission, Vision and Values.

Our Mission:  The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga is an engaged, metropolitan university committed to excellence in teaching, research, and service, and dedicated to meeting the diverse needs of the region through strategic partnerships and community involvement.

Where are students in our Mission Statement?

How do you put meaning into being an Engaged Metropolitan University; how do you “feel” it, “see” it and “live” it.

While our mission may remain the same, how do we clearly and boldly share the passion for what we do —we change lives, we transform communities.  And how do we get you to join us in our passion for excellence.

We need to look at the Values that Drive Us Each and Every Day - Excellence, Diversity and Inclusion, Sustainability, Ethics and Integrity, Service to our community.  Is there more? Are there other values that aspire all of us to greatness?  We need to have the conversation.

How should we look at student numbers over the next 10-20 years?

Should the student population be 15,000, or held at 12,000 or should we grow to 18,000?   Because the answer is about more than a number; it is about the quality of the educational experience and equipping our graduates to meet the challenges here and elsewhere in the years to come. 

The question is who are we, and who do we want to be?

I think we know some of the answers, but by reaching out to you, soliciting your opinions and advice, we will do a much better job in being your true partner in achieving excellence in everything we do as a university and as a community. Together, we will define who and what we are—and focus on a few things that we can do really well.

We must set priorities and commit resources to accomplish our goals.  It is clear that Student Success and Connections to our Community are priorities—We need to decide, commit and execute.

This includes identifying areas of focus and emphasis, Centers of Excellence.  Will we have the courage to select areas in which we will excel—interdisciplinary areas of scholarship that touch multiple departments and colleges?  Areas that impact our community?  We must decide to reinvest dollars to areas of high priority and high return.

As I stated earlier, our next Strategic Plan will focus on our two priorities:  Students and our Community.

Student Success and Excellence of our Educational Programs

How do we improve retention rates and graduation rates and also focus on graduating students who are poised to assume the role of an engaged citizen of our society? 

How do we expand experiential learning opportunities in our community and on campus?  Student success comes not just from the classroom; it comes from experiences outside the classroom, applying knowledge to problems in our community, working as a team, giving back to our region by participating in community service activities.  Working with a company, non-profit, or local government on a project that relates to what our students are learning in the classroom opens the minds of our students and gives them practical knowledge about the world they will live and work in.  Living in a dorm.  Working on the newspaper, radio station, participation in student government, or being a member of a club or student organization.  We must tie our student development and academic activities together to provide a broad experience that prepares our students for life today.

We have a Student Success Task Force.  And our Student Success facilitator will implement the recommendations with pilot programs this fall.  The aim is to impact the whole student experience, not merely the time spent in a classroom.

Specific programs I am looking forward to supporting include:

  • A residential summer bridge program for our most at risk students
  • A freshman seminar program – both the provost and I will teach one.
  • Living learning communities tied to academic programs.
  • Increasing the opportunities for undergraduate students to participate in research, scholarly activities, and creative expression.
  • Expanding our Honors Program.

Many of these programs will begin as a pilot program.  We will monitor progress, collect data, and measure the impact of the programs.  If we hit the mark, do more.  If we are off-center, we can make adjustments to have the desired impact.

We must continually review and monitor progress if we are to be successful.

Diversity and Inclusion is a value we must uphold and champion—our students will work in a global, knowledge-based economy and must be able to work with those who look different from them, those who practice different religions, those who may have physical disabilities but have so much to contribute to our society if we just let them.

The Chancellor’s Multicultural Advisory Council—a group of campus and community leaders concerned about diversity and inclusion—will be helping UTC focus and expand efforts to uphold the values we hold so dear and have a substantive impact on our community.  

International Education—study abroad and foreign students who come to UTC provide incredible opportunities to expand the horizons of our students. There is no reason we should not be able to provide an affordable international experience for the UTC students wanting to participate.  We should also enrich our campus with 600 to 1000 international students.

Athletics fits with both of our priorities, student success and connections to the community.

Our Intercollegiate Athletics Programs are a front door to the campus for our community.  Our student athletes are pushed to be the best they can be in the classroom and in sports competitions.  We have incredible student success staff and coaches to emphasize the total learning experience for a student athlete at UTC.  And they are Achieving Excellence.

Connections to our Community

Leverage Facility Investments.  How do we see the greatest impacts from projects like a new housing project, parking structure, executive education center, or intramural sports complex?

A UTC Task Force has examined Intramural Sports and will recommend the planning and construction of an Intramural Sports Complex near Engel Stadium.  How do we leverage this investment to add value to our community?

We have a great need for affordable student housing that is within walking distance to campus.  UTC will build additional space for freshmen and sophomores and private developers can provide options for upper classmen. These investments will change the face of the neighborhoods around our campus.  How do we maintain affordable housing and rents for individuals and businesses?  We need the help of our community to assist, challenge, and engage with our campus if we are to make the best decisions for our students, for UTC, Chattanooga, and our region.

UTC has taken ownership of the two state office buildings on McCallie – the old Interstate Building and the Mapp Building, as well as nearly 600 parking places.  We plan to use the 80,000 square foot Mapp building with its dedicated parking lot as an executive training center for our College of Business.  What programs make sense to help local businesses?  We have already conducted a market study and are looking to move forward with several new programs this coming fall.

Academic Program Development.  What are the areas we should be considering for new degrees and certificates?  Are there unmet needs in our region?  Where do we see a shortage of trained individuals and how does UTC help address this need.  If we cannot help, or it does not fit our strengths or mission, we must invite others to the table who can provide what our community needs.

Development of Centers of Excellence.  We have asked our faculty to respond to a call for proposals for the development of new centers and institutes on campus.  We have asked for ideas that are interdisciplinary, impact the education of our students, and add value to our community.

UTC must be an Active Partner in the Growth of the Arts in Chattanooga.  We must continue to develop programs in the arts that impact our community and help to make this an even better place to live.  An Active, Healthy Arts Community is directly tied to a healthy economy and a livable community.

Our Community is a Learning Laboratory for our Students and Faculty.  Internship and co-op programs give our students real-world experience and prepare them for the work force.  UTC has a focus on applied research that encourages our faculty to pursue scholarship opportunities addressing problems and issues in our community.  We have the opportunity to see solutions impact our local economy and quality of life.

Community Service.  UTC will be looking for additional opportunities to harness the strength of our campus to help our community through community service.  We already do this, but not in a focused fashion.  If we can bring 2000 people out for the heart walk, to clean up a neighborhood, or help those less fortunate than us, it will have an impact.

Community Liaison.  Members of the Chancellor’s Roundtable have been helpful in looking at where and how UTC can better engage with our community.  One of their main recommendations is to create a position to manage Community Contacts with the university.  I agree with their advice and we will create such a position.  I want to thank members of the Chancellor’s Round Table for all they do for our university – would current and former members please stand?

We will create the bridge between business and the university.  And when you ask of us, you will get a quick, informative response.

In the past eight months I have seen that our role as the region’s four-year public university gives us incredible opportunities and also saddles us with a great responsibility.  Our focus has to be on what we do and do it well. We have to stay true to our dual vision of student success and meaningful community connections and partnerships. We have to earn your trust and confidence every day.  Our commitment is to make a difference in the life of our community and in the lives in our community.

Together—our students, our faculty and staff, our alumni and our community partners—we will Achieve Excellence.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga is your University.  Join us in our drive for Excellence.