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Commission for Women


From advocating for women to hold leadership roles on campus to improving parental leave policies, the Commission for Women advises campus administration on programs, policies, and services to improve the status of women on campus.


The group meets monthly in Hodges Library.


Commission membership is open to faculty, staff, and students, male and female. The bylaws call for no more than 24 voting members, all appointed by the chancellor. Some voting members represent various campus groups, including the other commissions and the Council on Diversity and Interculturalism, Faculty Senate, Graduate Student Senate, the Student Government Association, the Employee Relations Council, and Exempt Staff Council. Nonvoting members represent various administrative offices. See a full list of members.

Current Leadership

Chair is Rachel Chen (, 865-974-0505), a professor in the Department of Retail, Hospitality, and Tourism and director of the Center for Sustainable Business and Development.

Goals for the Year

  • Review parental leave policies for birth and adoption and related work-life balance issues
  • Advocate for representation of women in leadership positions
  • Review and recommend mentoring and professional development to help prepare women for leadership
  • Advocate for awareness surrounding sexual assault and misconduct
  • Advocate for pay equity across genders
  • Use Women’s History Month to highlight the accomplishments of prominent alumni and promote campus scholarship and research related to women
  • Support the Women in STEM Committee of the Commission for Women
  • Support LGBTQ+ women and the Pride Center
  • Recruit new members
  • Create and administer the Commission for Women Excellence Fund, which will fund fellowships or scholarships

Events and Initiatives

Each year, the commission partners with the Office of the Chancellor to sponsor two women to attend the Higher Education Resource Services (HERS) Institute. Since 2006, UT has sent more than 24 women to this program.

This past November, the commission partnered with the Office of the Provost to host a panel discussion on equity, sexual harassment prevention, and bully-free workplaces. The event was attended by 61 people.

Visit the Commission for Women website for more information. 

Member profile: Rachel Chen

Rachel Chen is a professor of retail, hospitality, and tourism management and director of the Center for Sustainable Business and Development. She is an expert in forecasting business and tourism opportunities as well as evaluating the impact of projects.

In her role as commission chair, she applies some of those same skills. She tries to determine what women faculty, staff, and students need to help them become more successful and create opportunities to make those things happen.

One of Chen’s accomplishments on the commission has been spearheading the development of the Women’s Excellence Fund, a partnership between the commission and committed donors through the UT Foundation that funds various initiatives to empower women and enhance women’s education. Those initiatives include sending undergraduate or graduate women to leadership development conferences, providing scholarships for undergraduate students and fellowships for women faculty, and funding a women’s lecture series.

Chen was born and raised in Taiwan, where she also earned her bachelor’s degree. She came to the United States to earn her master’s degree and doctorate.

At UT since 2000, she teaches a variety of undergraduate and graduate-level courses, and she’s mentored more than 150 undergraduates participating in EURēCA, UT’s annual undergraduate research and creative achievement exhibition.

Chen also uses her expertise to advise groups outside the university.

She has studied Appalachian tourism and serves as a faculty fellow for the Center for Transportation Research. She did an economic impact assessment for the Tennessee Aquarium’s 25-year celebration, and her economic impact forecasting helped bring a $16 million 4-H camp and conference center to Hardeman County, Tennessee. She’s published more than 140 papers, including refereed journal articles and conference papers, magazine articles, and book chapters. She serves as an associate editor, guest editor, editorial board member, paper reviewer, and track chair for 23 refereed journals and four national and international associations.

Chen was chosen to attend the Higher Education Resource Services (HERS) Institute in 2011, the year she became a member of the commission. She was elected commission chair this year.

Before moving into academia, Chen worked in tourism and sales and marketing positions for two companies in Taiwan. She has been a visiting researcher in Denmark and a visiting professor at Yale University.

While tourism research is part of her work, travel is one of her passions.

Her favorite excursions have been a trip with her husband and daughter to Hawaii, where she went ocean snorkeling for the first time, and a trip to Paris to museum hop with her mother.

“I also love spending time with family in eastern Taiwan, where we enjoy relaxing spa and ecotourism experiences,” she said.

Member profile: Catherine Luther

In the time she’s been at UT, Catherine Luther has seen the campus become a better place for women to study and work—and she wants to help move things even further.

“This year marks 20 years that I have been at UT. I’ve seen vast improvements in how the university recognizes and awards female faculty, staff, and students,” said Luther, professor and director of the School of Journalism and Electronic Media in the College of Communication and Information.

Luther was appointed to the Commission for Women last May.

“When I was an assistant professor, we didn’t even have a leave program designed to accommodate those who were having a child. From professional development opportunities to benefits related to human resources, I believe UT has continued to devise ways to enable its employees to thrive.”

Luther received the commission’s Notable Woman Award in 2012 and was chosen to attend the Higher Education Resource Services (HERS) Institute at Bryn Mawr in the summer of 2017.

“I’ve been so grateful for the various experiences I’ve received in the area of professional development thanks to the Commission for Women and UT. I honestly wanted to find a way to give back.”

Luther chairs the commission’s Safety Advisory Committee, which coordinates activities and works to increase awareness of safety issues of particular importance to women.

“I am hoping to assist the commission in its mission to create a safe campus environment that is supportive of women and promotes their career advancement.

“While UT has made great progress in assisting faculty members, I think there are still differences in how tenure-track versus non-tenure track faculty are approached and accommodated. I’d like to see improvements this area.”

Before moving into academia, Luther worked in the television news industry. She was based in Tokyo and Los Angeles, producing news packages for Japanese television networks as well as ABC. Her reports appeared on World News Tonight, Nightline, and Good Morning America.

Luther’s areas of expertise include international communication, press-state relations, intergroup conflict, terrorism and the media, and issues involving media and social group representation. She was recently among 25 professors nationwide chosen to participate in the Television Academy Foundation’s 2018 Faculty Seminar Program.

Outside of work, Luther enjoys reading, watching classic movies, and finding time to play football or basketball with her two sons.