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2016 Chancellor’s Honors Banquet

Last night I had the pleasure of hosting one of my favorite events of the year—the Chancellor’s Honors Banquet. This annual tradition celebrates the hard work and achievements of our students, faculty, and staff.

We honored students who I am certain will someday change our world. Among them were this year’s Torchbearers, the highest student honor we award: Jalen Blue, Cayce Davis, Madison Kahl, Willie Kemp, Bradford Reszel, Sahba Seddighi, and Wayne Taylor.

We also celebrated the faculty and staff who make a difference in the lives of our students every day:

Soren Sorensen is this year’s Macebearer, our top faculty award. He is a professor of physics who has been a member of the faculty for thirty-one years. He also holds a research affiliation with Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Geoff Greene, joint faculty member in the department of physics and ORNL, received the Alexander Prize for superior teaching and scholarship. Charles Sanft, associate professor of history, earned the Jefferson Prize for a well-established record of research and creative activity, and Lee Han, professor of civil and environmental engineering and collaborating scientist with ORNL, was awarded the L. R. Hesler Award for exceptional teaching and service.

These are just a few of our honorees. I encourage you to read the special insert in today’s Daily Beacon or view profiles for all those honored online on the Chancellor’s Honors Banquet website.

I want to thank everyone who submitted nominations, served on an awards committee, or helped to make this year’s banquet a memorable evening.

Update on Title IX Lawsuit

I hope all of you have had a good break to kick off spring, as we did on campus last week. We are having a very good year at the university, and we are excited about the months to come.

We are continuing to make progress in every area—student life, academics, athletics, and our physical campus.

As we welcome our students back, I want to update you on some difficult news you may have read recently—news about a Title IX lawsuit alleging that we have allowed a culture of insensitivity to sexual misconduct and assaults on campus.

The lawsuit has generated negative publicity, particularly here and in Nashville, and all of that is very uncomfortable for many of those involved and certainly for those of us who care so much about our community.

While I cannot specifically address the allegations in the lawsuit, I can say that any assertion that we do not take sexual assault seriously enough is simply not true. To claim that we have allowed a culture to exist contrary to our institutional commitment to providing a safe environment for our students or that we do not support those who report sexual assault is just false. We are a community, even if we’re not a perfect one, and we hurt when any of our family members hurt or cause pain to others.

Since 2011, as the challenges of sexual misconduct on campuses across America have become more apparent and difficult, we have been in high gear, dramatically enhancing our resources, education, and support for fighting the human injury and injustice this phenomenon carries with it.

In 2013, this administration directed a full independent review of student conduct evaluation procedures and adopted thirty-seven of the review committee’s thirty-nine recommendations. We are well on our way to implementing virtually all of the recommendations of the independent committee.

One of those recommendations actually changed the name of the Student Judicial Affairs Office to the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards, emphasizing a transition from a judgmental, punitive posture to one more focused on education, development, and support.

The list of additional resources, programs, and activities that have been instituted since then is long:

  • All of our UT police officers have been specially trained to handle sexual assaults on campus, and our police chief has assigned a special investigator just to handle sexual assaults.
  • We have revised and expanded our sexual assault policy and our student code of conduct. We have developed sexual assault response protocols, a Sexual Assault Response Team (SART), and a SART advisory board that meets weekly to review how we’re doing. Over the past three years, the Center for Health Education and Wellness has evolved into a model program for prevention and intervention.
  • We have added three positions in the Division of Student Life to work closely with this important initiative: a sexual misconduct investigator, a sexual health coordinator, and a case manager.

The Student Life staff members who work to prevent sexual assault and to educate and counsel our students receive extensive training and are regarded as experts among their peers across the country. They have been recognized nationally for their leadership in this field.

I encourage you to visit our website to see all we are doing in this area to ensure that our campus is as safe as possible at all times for every single student and that when bad decisions are made we respond in the most effective, fair, and caring way.

I’d much rather spend all of these words enumerating all of the great positive things that are happening every day on our campus, but since news is being made I thought it important to share this perspective with you and to reassure you that we are on the case and the continued safety of all of our students is of the utmost importance to us.

We invite and welcome your thoughts and questions anytime. Feel free to contact me at Again, I hope your spring is off to a beautiful and wonderful start. Thank you for trusting us to be part of your lives; thank you for being part of ours.

A Message about Diversity Funding from Chancellor Cheek and President DiPietro

To: University of Tennessee, Knoxville, faculty, staff, and students
From: Chancellor Jimmy Cheek and President Joe DiPietro

As you likely are aware, a discussion of funding for the University of Tennessee System’s proposed budget for the coming fiscal year was on the agenda at Wednesday afternoon’s state Senate Education Committee meeting in Nashville.

On Wednesday morning, at a special joint House Education hearing on diversity initiatives in higher education, System and campus leadership was clear and direct on the importance of diversity and inclusion, as evidenced in the archived video of the hearing. We outlined many of the programs and services that would be at risk if the legislature took action to reduce or eliminate diversity funding.

Presentation About Diversity by Chancellor Cheek

View the slides from Chancellor Cheek’s presentation.

We also noted that diversity is defined in many different ways and that our commitment to it extends beyond race and ethnicity to encompass many other aspects including gender identity, sexual orientation, religious belief, geography, physical ability, socioeconomic status, veteran status, and family educational attainment, among others.

Diversity is more than a social concept. It’s an important aspect of the academic experience and our effective operations. It’s about improving access, opportunity, and engagement as we seek to prepare all of our students to live and work in a diverse global society filled with differing ideas, cultures, opinions, and approaches to life. Diversity and civility also are essential for our students and our institutional success, and we value each person on this campus as we promote and expect respect for all.

At the end of the day, the Senate Education Committee voted to amend the governor’s proposed budget for UT by reassigning $8 million from the UT Knoxville budget to UT Extension and to rural outreach through UT Martin and UT Chattanooga. From its language – “only federal funds shall be expended to support the Office for Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville” – the amendment’s intent is clear and concerning. It is also important to note that the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at UT Knoxville receives no federal funding.

While the amendment was unexpected and is disappointing, several additional steps remain in the process toward passage of the state appropriations bill by the General Assembly. We are in contact with legislators and will continue to vigorously seek to resolve issues so that reinstatement of the funding as originally proposed by the governor occurs before the legislature approves the final state budget in April.

We will share further updates with you as developments warrant between now and then. In the meantime, I encourage you to regularly visit our UT Advocacy website at for related information and resources and to join our advocacy network.

Thank you for all you do for our University.

Provost Martin to Return to the Faculty on July 1

After eight years as our chief academic officer, Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor Susan Martin will return to her faculty position in the Department of Classics on July 1.

I am sad and we will miss her greatly on my team, but I know that UT is in a much better place because of her superb leadership.

I have always said that the provost’s job is one of the toughest at any university, and ours is no exception. Susan has been strategic, steadfast, and courageous in her role. I credit her leadership and her vision for so many of the transformational changes we’ve been able to make in recruiting, supporting, retaining, and graduating our students.

Susan has built a great staff whose work has focused on making strategic data-driven decisions that have led to better service to our students and more support for our faculty and programs. She has also hired highly effective deans to lead our colleges and helped to add many talented scholars to our faculty.

The contributions she’s made as provost will not end when she returns to the College of Arts and Sciences. The Vol Vision strategic plan provides the framework for improving all aspects of the university, and the work on reaccreditation and development of the Experience Learning initiative will continue to transform learning and teaching at UT for many years to come.

She says, “I will be forever grateful to Chancellor Cheek for the opportunities he has afforded me to move the university forward. Our strong partnership has resulted in many successes as we have worked to strengthen academics at UT.

“I am incredibly proud of what our team in academic affairs has been able to accomplish in partnership with the deans, faculty, and staffs of the colleges and other vice chancellors’ units.

“I look forward to returning to my starting point at UT, the Department of Classics, to re-establish that connection with teaching and research that I have really missed.”

Please join me in thanking Susan for her visionary leadership and the impact she has had on this university. We all wish her well in this next phase of her career.

To read more about her accomplishments, visit Tennessee Today.

Faculty Appreciation Week 2016

Celebrate Faculty Appreciation Week

Today we begin our annual celebration of faculty. This year we are recognizing the ways our faculty go the extra mile in their teaching, research, and outreach.


Students, take a moment to send a note of thanks to your favorite faculty member by leaving a shoutout. Or tell your instructors in person how much you’ve appreciated their help this year.

Visit to read stories about some of our great faculty members and find out about the events and discounts taking place this week.

Thank you, faculty! Your dedication makes UT a vibrant place to live, work, and learn.

Nominations for the Chancellor’s Honors Banquet

The Chancellor’s Honors Banquet, held annually, is a long-standing tradition of celebrating excellence at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. It is a time to honor the academic and service achievements that represent the best of our university.

I ask you to nominate students, faculty, staff, and organizations that embody the highest level of scholastic and service accomplishments for awards to be presented at the banquet. Nominations for many awards are still open. You can learn more about the awards and make nominations online at Please direct any questions to the selection committee chairs listed under each award.

Thank you for helping recognize excellence on our campus.

Vice Chancellor Margie Nichols Announces Plans to Retire

I would like to share some news with you that is both sad and happy. Margie Nichols, vice chancellor for communications and marketing, plans to retire from the university later this year.

It is a tough announcement for me to make. Margie started helping me even before I arrived on campus to begin serving as chancellor in 2009. She has been a big part of what we’ve been able to accomplish.

Margie has served as vice chancellor for more than seven years and has provided the strong leadership needed to enhance the university’s national reputation. She has helped to tell the best stories about our university and improved our communication with students, faculty, and staff.

Margie and her team have led the campus through a very successful branding campaign. This effort has helped to infuse orange into our campus culture and to present our brand with unity and consistency behind the Power T logo.

Margie has also been a critical part of my cabinet and brought valuable expertise and knowledge to our team. We will miss her greatly at the University of Tennessee, and I will personally miss her counsel on the many issues we have faced over the years.

Margie says, “I have had an amazing career, and it’s been an honor to serve the University of Tennessee and its distinguished faculty, staff, and students. I have accomplished the goals I set eight years ago when I came to UT. The time is right for my husband and me to focus on our list of things we want to do together.

“I have been blessed with an extremely talented staff who will continue all of the great work we’ve started. I am humbled by Chancellor Cheek’s kind words and trust; I will miss him and my colleagues greatly.”

We are beginning a national search to fill the position. Margie will continue to serve in her role until her successor is named. Chris Cimino, vice chancellor for finance and administration, is chairing the search, and a committee representing faculty, staff, and students will be named soon. Read more on Tennessee Today.

Please join me in thanking Margie for her service and wishing her well in her retirement.

Lace up Your Sneakers for the Be Well Kickoff Lunch

Knoxville employees, join Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek for a lunch of healthy options and giveaways to kick off the new employee wellness program.

11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Thursday, January 28
Courtside in Thompson-Boling Arena

Wear sneakers and join the Be Well team after lunch to walk laps on the concourse or shoot hoops on the court.

Please enter the arena under Pratt Pavilion.

RSVP to attend.

Vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options will be available.

More information about the lunch and the Be Well program is available in Tennessee Today.

Victory sign

Vols Win Outback Bowl; Student Athletes Post Record Overall GPA

It’s great to start the new year celebrating the success of our Volunteer student athletes.

The Vol football team dominated the Northwestern Wildcats at the Outback Bowl, played New Year’s Day in a mostly-orange-filled Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. The 45–6 win over Northwestern marked the largest margin of victory for the Vols in a bowl game in program history.

We also start the year with the great news of the impressive performance of Volunteer student athletes in the classroom. Tennessee posted a 3.06 overall student-athlete GPA for fall semesters, with thirteen of the sixteen teams posting above 3.0. Fall semester marked the highest term overall GPA and the sixth consecutive semester of GPAs above 3.0.

The Vol football team posted a fall team GPA of 2.68, the second-highest in fall semester history. The football team’s cumulative GPA is 2.77, the highest in the team’s history.

Access and Success Can Go Hand in Hand

Each year, we try to recruit and enroll the best and brightest students. Our new Volunteers come from all backgrounds and income levels, and we have a number of programs to help ensure that money is not a stumbling block for them.

A recently released report underscores our belief that universities don’t have to choose between access and success—that, in fact, the two can go hand in hand.

The study, published by the Institute for Higher Education Policy and summarized in a recent issue of Washington Monthly magazine, looks at colleges that have increased their enrollment of low-income students—specifically, those eligible for Pell grants—while continuing to hit other important marks of excellence, such as enrolling a freshman class with a high median ACT score and having a strong six-year graduation rate.

We are proud to be among the schools that have managed to improve both access and success. In fact, the University of Tennessee is cited as a success in the report.

Nearly a third of our undergraduates—31 percent—are eligible for federal Pell grants. This year, 14 percent of our freshmen received institutional scholarships to cover the cost of attending the university.

The Institute for Higher Education Policy report lists some of the key steps schools should take to enroll and retain low-income students. We’re already doing all of these things:

Our admissions office uses holistic review—looking not only at a student’s GPA and ACT score, but also at special abilities, life circumstances, and other factors that would make the applicant a great addition to the Volunteer family.

We’ve created an admissions pipeline by placing admissions counselors in West, Middle, and East Tennessee to work closely with high schools and community colleges in those areas. These counselors engage in their communities and get to know advisors and students.

The UT-funded Pledge and Promise scholarships help improve diversity by opening our doors to students who might not otherwise be able to attend. For low-income students, the Pledge scholarship, in combination with other federal, state, and institutional aid, covers the cost of attending UT. The Promise program provides scholarships for academically eligible students from high schools that typically don’t send many students to UT. Many of these are inner-city schools in Nashville and Memphis.

Programs like UT Lead and Math Camp are examples of how we have implemented summer academic bridge programs that help admitted students adjust and prepare for the academic rigors of college. Our Volunteer Bridge program, which allows students to begin their studies at Pellissippi State Community College and then transfer seamlessly to UT, is another way we’re increasing both access and success.

We also use early warning systems, including uTrack, to provide students with a road map to the courses they need to graduate on time and to alert advisors when students get behind.

Becoming a great university doesn’t just happen.

Building a diverse, well-rounded, and stellar student body takes planning, creativity, and a lot of hard work. It’s nice to see our efforts to increase access and student success are working and being used as examples to help enroll and support students with great potential across the nation.

The flagship campus of the University of Tennessee System and partner in the Tennessee Transfer Pathway.