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Tisha Benton Named Vice Chancellor for Communications

I am pleased to announce that Tisha Benton has been appointed vice chancellor for communications. Her first day will be December 17.

As the university’s chief communications and marketing officer, Tisha will serve on the chancellor’s cabinet as a key advisor and member of the university’s senior leadership team.

She will lead the Office of Communications and Marketing, which includes Creative Communications, Media and Internal Relations, Video Production, and WUOT-FM 91.9.

Tisha is a thoughtful, well-respected, and trusted leader in the state. She has extensive experience with large, complex organizations and brings a unique perspective to this position. I look forward to working with her to move ahead with the university’s communications and marketing goals.

Tisha currently serves as deputy commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation’s Bureau of Environment. In 2004, she began her career at TDEC as deputy director of communications. She quickly advanced in the agency, serving as director of communications, assistant commissioner for external affairs, and director of the Division of Water Resources.

Prior to her work with TDEC, Tisha was a senior executive producer at Knoxville’s WATE-TV. She has served on the board of directors for Keep Knoxville Beautiful and as an allocations volunteer for United Way of Greater Knoxville. Additionally, she has provided communications and organizational assistance to the Great Smoky Mountains Park Commission.

Her earlier broadcast experience includes producing evening newscasts for WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; KRNV-TV in Reno, Nevada; and KOMU-TV in Columbia, Missouri.

Tisha’s honors include the Governor’s Excellence in Service Award and being named a Next Gen Innovator Award national finalist. She has been recognized for crisis communications on issues including coal ash, floods, and numerous other complex environmental matters. Tisha is a graduate of LEAD Tennessee, the state’s premier leadership training program.

Tisha is originally from Tabernacle, New Jersey, and earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri. She is pursuing a Master of Science from Tennessee Technological University.

She and her husband, David, have a six-year-old daughter, Emma. They’re excited to move back to Knoxville.

Please join me in welcoming Tisha and her family to Rocky Top.

Together as Volunteers

Dear Volunteers,

We are writing in response to recent hateful acts intended to threaten and divide our campus community.

Hate does not belong on our campus. Anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia, and misogyny are harmful to us all and run counter to everything it means to be a Volunteer. We stand with those of you who feel threatened and intimidated in this moment and with those of you who feel that their university has let them down in recent years.

This is about more than recent incidents at the Rock. Scrawled messages of intolerance and hate are symptoms of broader underlying issues that we recognize need to be addressed in meaningful, sustained ways.

As an administration, we have spent this week focused on finding ways to address these underlying issues. We dedicated much of that time to engaging with and listening to students, faculty, and staff in a series of small-group discussions. We asked for openness and honesty in these conversations, and we worked hard to offer the same in return.

We asked what actions and solutions would be most meaningful as we work toward a more inclusive campus. A few themes emerged from these conversations:

Safety & Security

Campus safety is our top priority. UTPD has taken some immediate steps to respond to the specific security concerns of the past few weeks, including an increased physical presence in the area around the Rock. Continued improvements in the department’s community liaison program will help connect police with our community leaders and ensure that our officers are there for you when and how you need them. We encourage everyone to download the LiveSafe app and use it to connect with UTPD and other campus resources.

Feeling safe is also about knowing you belong. We are committed to better connecting members of our campus with one another and to investing in programs and offices that support our fellow Volunteers in difficult times.


It is important to connect our diversity and inclusion efforts to our core mission of education. There is great interest in organizing a series of lectures, seminars, or colloquiums to address issues brought to bear by hate speech. Curriculum materials and learning modules are also desired, along with learning opportunities for faculty, staff, and students. We will build knowledge and bring an educational focus to this work.

Coordination of Efforts

A lot of good work is being done on campus to advance our diversity and inclusion priorities. However, these efforts are decentralized and often uncoordinated. Events are often poorly attended and program organizers feel unsupported. We recognize that long-term structural improvements are needed, and we are working toward that goal. In the short term, we will bring these resources and opportunities together in ways that make them more accessible and visible.

Ongoing Dialogue

We need to talk to and hear from one another. Many of you have suggested town halls and discussion forums as effective means for building a more open and welcoming culture. There is also a need for ongoing communication efforts that allow every individual to have a voice in shaping our community. We will find ways in the coming months to facilitate more thoughtful dialogue and discussion.

It is important to us, the chancellor’s cabinet, that we acknowledge the above and be held accountable. We ask for your continued guidance and collaboration as we do the work needed to put these words into action.

Let’s continue to stand with one another, together as Volunteers.


Wayne T. Davis, Interim Chancellor
Chip Bryant, Vice Chancellor for Advancement
Vincent Carilli, Vice Chancellor for Student Life
Chris Cimino, Senior Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration
Phillip Fulmer, Director of Athletics
David Manderscheid, Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor
Robert Nobles, Interim Vice Chancellor for Research

In Solidarity with Our Jewish Community

Last week, a swastika was painted on the Rock. It was painted on top of a message of solidarity following the tragic shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

I am disappointed and deeply concerned, as are many members of our university community, that this symbol of hate appeared on one of our iconic campus landmarks.

Yesterday I met with a group of students, faculty, and staff—along with members of the local Jewish community—who all feel targeted and intimidated by this incident. We discussed ways the university can support them in this moment and in the future.

I want to make it clear that the university does not condone these actions or other acts of intimidation or intolerance. No one should feel unsafe because of their religious beliefs.

As a long-standing platform of free expression, the Rock is frequently painted with messages that express opinions, promote events, and offer sympathy and congratulations. Though last week’s hateful message may be protected speech, it does not represent our values and has no place on our campus.

As disappointed as I am that this happened, I am also heartened by the students who took it upon themselves to immediately paint over the symbol of hate out of care and concern for their fellow Volunteers.

By standing together and taking care of and respecting one another, we will ensure our campus is a community in which everyone feels welcome and safe.

Wayne T. Davis
Interim Chancellor

Our Promise to First-Generation Students: You are not Alone

More than once in the late 1960s, I wrote a tuition check to the bursar’s office at Pfeiffer College knowing that I would have just $10 left in my account.

I would lie in my dorm room concerned about making it through the next semester.

Could I keep up financially? Academically? Was it worth it?

Self-doubt can overwhelm even the most prepared student. It doesn’t seem to matter where you grew up, how you performed on your ACTs or how much money your family makes.

But when you’re the first in your family to go to college, as I was, you don’t know that it’s hard for everyone. No one has told you. And that can be very lonely.

That’s why the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is celebrating National First-Generation College Student Day. Events across campus today will help show students they are not alone.

One quarter of our undergraduate students, including freshmen, have parents who do not have a four-year degree.

First-generation college students are as smart and talented as their classmates, though they may not be as prepared. They may not understand the lingo of higher education or know how to navigate complex systems like a large university. And, as in my case, their financial burdens are often greater.

First Gen LogoToday, first-generation faculty and staff on our campus will wear “First Gen” T-shirts and lapel pins to celebrate our students. We want students to see themselves reflected in the people who are here to serve them. It’s a lengthy list that includes, in addition to me, our vice chancellor for student life, the deans of the law school and the libraries, our athletics director, and numerous faculty, staff and administrators.

But celebrating our first-generation students isn’t enough. We are working harder and investing more than ever to help them succeed.

We have long-running efforts like TRiO Student Support Services to help students in need, and we’re expanding others like UT LEAD, which serves as a resource for first-generation Volunteers throughout their college career.

As a Carnegie tier one research university, we are developing more programs that involve our undergraduate students in research experiences. These opportunities not only engage students academically but also provide financial support in many cases.

We are Tennessee’s premier public university and its flagship higher education institution. This is a place of aspiration and opportunity, and it belongs to all Tennesseans.

The students who arrive on our campus have earned their way here, and from the moment they step onto Rocky Top it is our duty to make sure they succeed.

I see thousands of talented young people on our campus every day. Among them are the next great researchers, nurses, business leaders, writers and teachers—perhaps even the next chancellor of a flagship university.

No matter what our students choose to do, they will leave this university with a degree that has improved their lives, the lives of their families and the lives of fellow Tennesseans.

Wayne T. Davis
Interim Chancellor

Bredesen Center Director to Retire

Lee Riedinger, director of UT’s Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education, informed me this week that he plans to retire at the end of 2018. He was appointed in 2010 to serve as the center’s first director.

I anticipate having a successor in place by January 1. Interested internal applicants can learn more about the position and apply online.

Chancellor Emeritus Jimmy G. Cheek and Michelle Buchanan will co-chair the internal search. Cheek is a Distinguished Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies and director of the Post-Secondary Educational Resources Center in the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences, who as chancellor was responsible for the formation and growth of the Bredesen Center. Buchanan is deputy director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory and executive vice president for science and technology with UT-Battelle LLC.

Members of the search committee include Shaun Gleason, director of the Cyber and Data Analytics Division at ORNL; Veerle Keppens, professor and head of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering in the Tickle College of Engineering and director of the Joint Institute for Advanced Materials; Bamin Khomami, Granger and Beaman Distinguished Professor, head of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and director of the Sustainable Energy Education and Research Center; Zach Sims, graduate student in the Bredesen Center; Soren Sorensen, professor of physics in the Department of Physics and Astronomy in the College of Arts and Sciences; Russell Zaretzki, Heath Faculty Fellow, Joe Johnson Faculty Research Fellow, and associate professor in the Department of Business Analytics and Statistics in the Haslam College of Business; Tracey Wellington, Bredesen Center graduate and technical staff member at ORNL; and Wanda Davis, Bredesen Center business manager.

Dr. Riedinger joined the physics faculty at UT Knoxville in 1971. He has held various administrative positions and served as interim vice chancellor for research three times (1991–95, 2006–07, and 2012).

In 2000, Dr. Riedinger helped lead the formation of UT-Battelle LLC and the successful competition to assume the management of ORNL, becoming ORNL’s deputy director for science and technology. In this role, he worked to expand the capabilities of the laboratory through joint programs with UT and other leading universities. In 2007, he returned to teaching and research in the physics department.

His numerous accolades from UT include the Chancellor’s Research Scholar award in 1983, the Macebearer award in 2008, the Chancellor’s Medal in 2012, and the L. R. Hesler Award for Excellence in Teaching and Service in 2013. In 2017 the Graduate Student Senate named him Graduate Director of the Year.

During his retirement, Dr. Riedinger plans to travel, spend time with family, and work on a book about the history of the UT-ORNL connection. Each fall, he will return to UT to teach introductory energy science and technology courses.

Dr. Riedinger has served the university well and has positively impacted UT in many ways. I wish him all the best in retirement and look forward to working with the next director of the center.

Campus Reception for President DiPietro

President Joe DiPietro

In January 2011, Joe DiPietro became the 25th president of the University of Tennessee. Nearly eight years later, the benefits of his leadership can be seen and felt throughout the system.

Please join me for a reception on Thursday, November 15 from 2 to 3 p.m. at the Hodges Library Galleria to thank him and wish him well as he retires.

Contact Tyger Glauser with questions at or 865-974-3409.

RSVP by November 8

Vice Chancellor for Communications Candidates to Visit Campus

I am pleased to announce that three candidates for the position of vice chancellor for communications will visit campus over the next two weeks.

As part of their visit, each candidate will lead a public forum for the campus community and respond to questions following their presentation. The campus community is invited to provide feedback on each candidate.

Mike Wirth, dean of the College of Communication and Information, is chairing the search.

The candidates are as follows:

Tisha Benton

Open Forum: 1:45–2:45 p.m. Monday, October 22, in the Communications Building Scripps Lab, Room 402

Benton is the deputy commissioner of the Bureau of Environment in the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. She leads eight technical divisions responsible for the quality of Tennessee’s air, water, and land. She oversees budget and regulatory compliance across the bureau’s 900 staff in 10 offices, manages the bureau’s customer relations, meets with businesses looking to expand or relocate in Tennessee, and provides information regularly to members of the Tennessee General Assembly. Her previous roles within TDEC include assistant commissioner for external affairs, director of communications, and director of the Division of Water Resources. Benton has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri–Columbia and is currently pursuing a master’s degree from Tennessee Technological University.

Tom Hutton

Open Forum: 1:45–2:45 p.m. Monday, October 29, in the Communications Building Scripps Lab, Room 402

Hutton most recently was the executive director of university communications and media relations for the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. He was responsible for strategic direction and hands-on work in the areas of media relations, internal communication, and executive preparation, as well as supervisory and active participation in university social media, photography, brand management, digital asset management, and trademark licensing. Previously he was director of the university’s Office of University Relations and directed public relations efforts for the University of Colorado Foundation. Hutton has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Colorado, Denver.

Renea Morris

Open Forum: 1:45–2:45 p.m. Tuesday, October 30, in the Communications Building Scripps Lab, Room 402

Morris most recently was the chief marketing officer in the University Communications and Marketing Office at Ohio University. She was responsible for leading and guiding the central marketing, branding, and public relations strategies for the university, including media and internal relations, WOUB, and video and photography. Previously she was the director of public relations for the Convergys Corporation. Morris has a master’s degree in education administration from Ohio University and a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of Illinois, Chicago. Morris holds the APR accreditation in public relations.

View each candidate’s curriculum vitae on the position search website.

I hope you will make plans to attend the forums and share your feedback.

Update on the Search for the Next Vice Chancellor for Research

On August 13, I announced that we would begin an internal search for a new vice chancellor for research with a goal of having someone in the position by the end of October.

Feedback from the search committee, chaired by Stacey Patterson, vice president for research at the UT System, has led me to the decision that a national search is in the best interest of the university.

We are suspending the current search. At the appropriate time, we will initiate a new, broader search to fill this key leadership position.

In the meantime, Interim Vice Chancellor for Research Robert Nobles has agreed to continue serving in his current role. I greatly appreciate his commitment and service to the university.

I would also like to express my gratitude to the search committee for their time and efforts during this process.

Welcome, Randy Boyd

This afternoon, the Board of Trustees selected Randy Boyd to be interim president of the University of Tennessee System. He will officially begin his duties on November 22.

Incoming Interim President Boyd has been instrumental in positioning Tennessee as a pioneer in higher education, helping launch both tnAchieves and Tennessee Promise. He has advised Governor Bill Haslam on education and economic development and has been a leader in the state’s ambitions to provide opportunities for all Tennesseans and to create an educated workforce—goals that dovetail with our own.

Randy Boyd

Randy Boyd

As alumni and prominent leaders in our community, both he and his wife, Jenny, have a long history of engaging with and investing in our campus. They have endowed professorships, supported student scholarships, and served on college advisory boards.

I have no doubt that Randy Boyd loves this university and will work tirelessly to help us succeed.

One of my priorities as interim chancellor is to prepare this campus for the years ahead. President Joe DiPietro and incoming Interim President Boyd are committed to discussing the status and timing of the chancellor search with the Board of Trustees at their November meeting. In the meantime, our goals remain unchanged. We will continue to grow our enrollment, hire new faculty, provide opportunities and resources for our students to succeed, conduct world-class research, and create a welcoming campus for all.

We have tremendous momentum, and I am certain the best is yet to come for our campus and the University of Tennessee System.

Please join me in welcoming Randy Boyd back to Rocky Top.

Mossman Distinguished Lecture featuring Adam Savage

Adam Savage

Adam Savage

I invite you to attend the fourth annual Mossman Distinguished Lecture on Friday, September 21, at 6:30 p.m. This year’s event features special effects designer and former MythBusters co-host Adam Savage. The lecture will take place at Cox Auditorium in the Alumni Memorial Building. Free parking will be available until 9 p.m. in the G10 Garage, adjacent to Neyland Stadium.

An artist and a self-defined skeptic, Savage will celebrate wonder, whimsy, and the maker movement in his lecture. His credits as a special effects designer include blockbuster Hollywood films such as Star Wars: Episode II–Attack of the Clones and The Matrix Reloaded.

His never-ending curiosity led him to co-host the popular TV show MythBusters. A new spin-off of the show, MythBusters Jr., features Savage attempting to answer questions with the help of brilliant children. The show is scheduled to air this fall on the Science Channel.

Savage’s accolades include a 2009 Emmy Award nomination and the 2010 Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism from the Harvard Secular Society.

Also on September 21, I will lead the dedication and official opening of the Ken and Blaire Mossman Building. I’m excited to see the amazing things our UT community will accomplish in these state-of-the-art classrooms and science laboratories.

Both the Mossman Building and the Mossman Distinguished Lecture Series are possible thanks to a generous endowment provided by the late Ken and Blaire Mossman, who met in Knoxville in 1968 while pursuing their degrees at the University of Tennessee.

I look forward to seeing you September 21.

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