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A Look at Priorities as We Begin the Academic Year

My first two months on Rocky Top have been a Big Orange whirlwind: I’ve acquired lots of orange, attended two football games, found my way around campus and—best of all—met many of you.

I hope your semester is off to an equally great start!

I’ve spent much of these first two months meeting people, asking questions, and listening. As I suspected, there are some terrific things happening at UT.

This campus has made huge strides in many areas—including enrollment, graduate and retention rates, and research expenditures—and we’re poised to move to the next level. I’ve determined an initial set of priorities, which I’ve shared at the Faculty Senate and Academic Leadership retreats:

Increase our six-year graduation rate. This year, we will hit a record high rate of 72 percent. That’s terrific news, but we still lag behind many of our peers. Our efforts to increase retention must stay on the front burner; our goal is to hit an 80 percent six-year graduation rate by 2022.

Grow our research profile. We’ve had a record year in research expenditures—$204 million. To ensure continued growth in research, we must have appropriate facilities, increase our graduate student population (since graduate students are critical to our research enterprise), and be strategic in hiring faculty. Thanks in part to our growing enrollment, we are able to search for 24 additional faculty members this year, including faculty for our three cluster hire areas.

Ensure student access. The great news is that 89 percent of our in-state applicants are given a pathway to a UT education. We must continue to provide the right mix of scholarships and other financial aid to keep UT within reach of a diverse group of students.

Enhance diversity and inclusion. Diversity and inclusion among students, faculty, and staff enhance the depth and breadth of all we do. The Diversity Advocates program, our Faculty Mentoring and Support initiative, and our new NSF Ascend grant are among the efforts that will help us improve our recruitment and retention of underrepresented faculty.

Increase e-learning opportunities. Online learning can help us increase access to our university, provide better education to our current students, and grow enrollment and resources. Yet there are operational issues as well as faculty concerns that must be addressed. Based on the report from an outside consulting firm and feedback at the Academic Leadership Retreat, we are looking for the best way to proceed in strategically harnessing the exciting benefits of online learning.

Examine the budget model. I want to start a conversation about the way we fund our academic operation. Do we have the right budget model? Are we encouraging entrepreneurial thought on the part of deans and department heads? I want us to think about where we are as well as where we want to be. Since our budget is growing, this is an ideal time to explore our options.

While other opportunities and challenges will undoubtedly come our way, this list gives you an idea of what I’ll be focusing on as we start the school year.

Thank you for extending such a warm welcome to me. I look forward to working with all of you in the days ahead.

David Manderscheid
Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor

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