(Submitted February 25, 2021)
KNOXVILLE—The University of Tennessee remains strong, despite the COVID-19 storm, the UT Board of Trustees heard during daylong meetings Thursday.
In the first month of classes during the fall 2020, UT had over 900 positive COVID-19 cases. One month into the spring 2021 semester, the University has 124 cases – an 86 percent decrease in active cases for the same point in time in the fall. UT Board Chair John Compton attributed the success to the faculty, staff and students working together to create a safe campus.
In addition, the University faced a $150 million financial hit due to the virus, but was able to absorb the financial impact while minimizing any impact to University employees. He thanked the former Board of Trustees and campus leadership that worked to make sure UT was on firm financial footing. He congratulated UT President Randy Boyd and the chancellors for taking decisive actions as the financial realities unfolded.
“I am extremely optimistic that COVID-19 will be behind us in the near future and we can return our campuses to the college experience that everyone desires,” Compton said.
In the University’s goal to grow enrollment and improve retention rates, the trustees heard about how it can help the state with Drive to 55—a goal to have 55 percent of Tennesseans to have a degree or certificate by 2025.
“We need to advocate for more students to go to college,” Compton said, adding that it is important for south central Tennessee that UT acquire Martin Methodist College. “We need to afford Southern Tennessee with an affordable, quality college education while carrying the UT banner for future graduates.”
Trustees also heard from the UT students in the first survey to gauge their experience. Trustees learned that 59 percent strongly agree or agree that they would recommend the University as a great place to study. Yet only 34 percent agree or strongly agree that they’ve adjusted well to hybrid or online learning. Additionally, 48 percent expressed concern about their academic success and 34 percent expressed concern about their mental health.
Trustees also heard from Boyd about wide-ranging 2021 goals and setting new values as part of his effort to make this the greatest decade in the history of the University. The goals range from increasing enrollment systemwide by 2 percent to creating an acquisition strategy and completing the acquisition of Martin Methodist College to training 400 police agencies in cultural competency.
Embracing common cultural values across the system will help foster unity and further the University’s drive to success and excellence. Creating the acronym BE ONE UT, the values challenge UT faculty and staff to be bold, embrace diversity, optimistic, nimble, excel, united and transparent.
“This will set a foundation for the decade to come because it defines who we are and we want to be,” Boyd said. “You need a strategy to get there and you must have a set of values to guide our behavior on a daily basis.”
In a move to offer better benefits to its employees, trustees approved allowing six weeks of paid parental leave within the first 12 months following the birth or adoption of a child. Employees would not be required to use any accrued sick or vacation leave. It could also be used concurrently with leave provided by the Family and Medical Leave Act or the Tennessee Parental Leave Act. The benefit begins July 1.
In other business, trustees approved:
- Revised mission statements for the University of Tennessee and University of Tennessee System
- Revised fiscal year 2020-21 operating budget
- A zero percent increase in the fiscal year 2021-22 tuition and fees for the UT Health Science Center, including reducing out-of-state tuition for doctor of medicine and out-of-state and in-state tuition for a master of science in forensic dentistry
- Renaming of Orange Hall in honor of Rita Sanders Geier and White Hall in honor of Theotis Robinson Jr. at UT Knoxville.
- Revisions to Student Code of Conduct Rules, UT Knoxville
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 400,000 alumni around the world.