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Notes from the Chancellor » Big Ideas for the New Year

Big Ideas for the New Year

Lots of people make New Year’s resolutions—goals to improve themselves in some form or fashion.

As a campus, we’ve also made some resolutions for 2012: improve our facilities, make steady progress on our journey to being a Top 25 public research university, improve employee compensation, and push for increased fundraising.

Here’s a look at each of those goals:

Improve facilities

We’ve got great things happening on our campus; we need to make sure they’re happening in great places.

Our top needs were incorporated into Tennessee Higher Education Commission’s five-year proposal for $2.1 billion in construction and maintenance work on college and university campuses across Tennessee.

On January 30, in his annual State of the State address, Governor Bill Haslam outlined a $31 billion state budget for the coming year that allocates $263 million for construction projects and another $72 million for capital maintenance on campuses statewide.

The biggest project on the “wish list” was the $94 million Strong Hall Science Laboratory, which we were very pleased to see included in the governor’s budget proposal.

Now we must wait to see what the legislature does. Meanwhile, we’re always looking at other funding options, including private donations and grants, as well as the money we bring in through the students’ facilities fee.

Here are our other priorities:

  • Construction of a science classroom/laboratory building at Cumberland Avenue and 13th Street, $90,000,000;
  • Construction of an academic building on the site of Melrose Hall, $54,000,000
  • Restoration of Hoskins Library, $32,000,000;
  • College of Nursing renovation and expansion, $45,000,000;
  • Renovation and expansion of Walters Life Sciences Building, $100,000,000; and
  • Renovation of the Jessie Harris Building and the Early Learning Center, $30,000,000.

Another significant self-funded project we’re working on is the conversion of our steam plant from a coal-fired facility to a one that burns only natural gas. As we look to be more environmentally conscious, this will be a great step.

Progress Toward Top 25

We’re now in the third year of our journey to make UT a Top 25 public research university.

Let’s look at our progress:

  • Our six-year graduation rate is now 63.2 percent. That’s up from 61 percent the year before, and it represents the second year we’ve seen an increase.
  • Our freshman-to-sophomore retention rate is 84.5 percent, down slightly from 2010 to 2011, but still up from two years ago.
  • We invested a record $153.8 million in research projects and public service programs for federal and state governments and private industry in fiscal year 2011. The total expenditures were up more than $20 million from the previous fiscal year and more than $12 million than the record set in fiscal year 2009. We received $162.5 million in awards this year.

Improve Compensation

Last year, we were able to give our employees the first pay raise they’ve had in four years—a critical move in our effort to keep and recruit high-quality faculty and staff.

We supplemented the state-mandated 1.6 percent across-the-board increase to give UT workers a 2 percent across-the-board raise. We created an additional 3 percent pool to reward top performers and address equity issues.
We’ve always known that our employees deserve more money—and now there is a study that proves it.

Last summer, the UT system had a nationally recognized HR firm do a market assessment of our faculty and staff pay and benefits.

The market assessment shows that the biggest gap in pay is here at the Knoxville campus.

The average annual salary of faculty statewide was 87 percent of the market median.  The average annual salary of Knoxville faculty statewide was 84 percent of the market median.

The average annual salary of staff statewide was 78 percent of the market median. The average annual salary of Knoxville staff was 74 percent of the market median.

Increase fundraising

When I graduated from Texas A&M University, I was challenged to make a $25 per year donation to the university every year. I did it, and I increased my giving as I was able.

Right now, UT ranks below many of our SEC peers in the percentage of alumni who make an annual gift. Our Development and Alumni Affairs team is working to change that, as it is a key metric in evaluating universities nationally.

We are asking UT graduates to connect, engage, and invest. Our mantra is simple: one gift, any amount, every year.

We have three priorities for the money we’re able to raise—increase our endowed professorships and faculty chairs, increase the number of graduate fellowships and  scholarships we’re able to offer, and improve our infrastructure.

A better UT…now that’s a big idea for 2012. And working together, we can make it happen.