Jimmy G. Cheek became the seventh chancellor of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, on February 1, 2009.
Within a year of taking office, the chancellor set a goal for UT to become a Top 25 public research university in a decade. This aggressive initiative sparked exciting momentum around improving undergraduate education, graduate education, research, campus infrastructure, and additional financial resources.
Several new academic and student service buildings have been built or significantly renovated since 2009. An unprecedented $1 billion in campus construction is now underway or in the design or planning stages. A new student union, classroom and laboratory facilities, and a redeveloped residence hall village will open in the next several years.
Cheek has led great change in the university’s delivery of core services that include student advising, tutoring, mentoring, and other support to help our students graduate on time and achieve their academic goals. These changes have dramatically improved retention and graduation rates and brought our metrics closer to those of our Top 25 peers.
The increased support for faculty and staff salaries has aided recruitment and retention efforts of world-class faculty and talented staff. Cheek also has led an effort to enhance our relationships with existing partners, including Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and to create new relationships that broaden our research and opportunities for collaborations with faculty and students.
A first-generation college student, Cheek has set in motion several initiatives to broaden diversity and student access to the university. The university’s work on improving access led to Cheek’s participation in the White House Summit on increasing college opportunity for low-income students.
He serves the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU) as a member of the Council of Presidents and as past chairman of the group’s Commission on Food, Environment, and Renewable Resources. He serves on the UT-Battelle Board of Governors, the University Health System Board of Directors, and the Tennessee Higher Education Commission Master Plan Steering Committee. He is chair of the Board of the International Fertilizer Development Center Advisory Committee, a global research effort to develop and commercialize clean, environmentally sustainable, cost-effective, and renewable fertilizers for the developing world. He is a past chairman and current member of the Leadership Knoxville Board of Directors.
Prior to his service with UT, Cheek was a member of the faculty and an administrator at the University of Florida for thirty-four years, last serving as senior vice president of agricultural and natural resources. During his tenure at UF, he received numerous teaching and service awards. Cheek’s research has focused on the influence of experiential learning on student achievement and educational accountability.
On June 21, 2016, Cheek announced his plan to return to the UT faculty. He will continue to serve as chancellor until his replacement is named. He will teach doctoral courses in higher education administration as a faculty member in the Educational Leadership and Policy Studies department.
Cheek earned his bachelor’s degree with high honors and his doctorate from Texas A&M University. He received his master’s degree from Lamar University. A native of Texas, he is married to Ileen Cheek, and they have two children and four grandchildren.