Cheek’s Legacy Includes Many Points of Pride

UT Knoxville is a much better university than it was seven years ago when Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek arrived. He has initiated and overseen a lengthy list of improvements—some visible on our campus landscape and others woven into the fabric of our university. They include:

  • “Journey to the Top 25.” Cheek accepted a challenge from former governor Phil Bredesen in 2010, created the roadmap, and got the campus on board for improving undergraduate and graduate education, recruiting and retaining stellar faculty and staff, improving facilities, and boosting research, outreach, and diversity. In the past five years, we’ve moved the needle on eight of twelve metrics. Our strategic plan, Vol Vision 2020, ensures the journey will continue.
  • Transformation of Rocky Top. We’ve seen more than thirty new and improved facilities to campus in the past five years. More than $1 billion has been invested over the past three years to improve facilities and grounds. Renovations have been made to the Steam Plant, Ayres Hall, Perkins Hall, the Nathan W. Dougherty Engineering Building, Neyland Stadium, and the Humanities and Social Sciences Building. Several state-of-the-art buildings have been constructed, including the first phase of the Student Union, the Student Health Building, the Natalie L. Haslam Music Center, the John D. Tickle Engineering Building, Fred D. Brown Jr. Residence Hall, the Cronan Volleyball Facility, and Regal Soccer Stadium. Work is well underway on the new Strong Hall, Ken and Blaire Mossman Building, and three residence halls.
  • Enhanced partnership with ORNL. UT has strengthened its key relationship with Oak Ridge National Laboratory by adding thirteen Governor’s Chairs across eleven departments. Cheek helped create the Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education, now UT’s fastest-growing doctoral program which draws some of the nation’s leading scholars to study energy science and engineering. He also helped lay the groundwork with ORNL for the White House–backed $259 million Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation, a consortium of universities, laboratories, and researchers across thirty-seven states.
  • Strengthened the Tennessee brand. We’re doing a better job than ever telling our story, thanks to a massive branding campaign. The “Big Orange. Big Ideas.” tagline promotes our groundbreaking scholarship and research. The Power T now represents our entire campus. We created logos and clarified our colors and fonts, producing a brand book that helps ensure consistency in messaging. Last fall, the Chancellor’s Bus Tour spread goodwill and enthusiasm while raising visibility in high schools and communities across the state. Thanks to new branded signage, you can be anywhere on campus and know you’re in Big Orange Country.
  • Increased research success. Over the past five years, we’ve seen an 83 percent increase in federal research expenditures and a 49 percent increase in total research expenditures. We have received millions in research funding from the US Departments of Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services, and Transportation, as well as NASA and the Environmental Protection Agency. Faculty have gained national recognition for their work, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Broadcast Education Association award, and the election National Academy of Engineering member in the past three months alone.
  • Strengthened Big Orange family. Cheek initiated new events and helped breathe new life into longstanding traditions. He revived the pre-commencement Aloha Oe candlelight ceremony where seniors celebrate their continuing journey and their pledge to serve the university and their community. His finals week pancake supper has been hugely popular, with more than a thousand students turning out for the late-night feast at Hodges Library this year. Other new celebrations Cheek started include picnics for faculty and staff at the beginning and end of each academic year; a spring memorial service that honors faculty, staff and students lost during the year; the Student Leadership Dinner; Cheek Speak open student forums; and new employee lunches.
  • Pay raises for faculty and staff. This will be the sixth year that faculty and staff will see pay increases. Over the past four years, UT has invested $56 million in market and merit increases to narrow both faculty and staff salary gaps. The average professor salary increased from $108,000 to $130,000, and the average assistant professor salary increased from $67,000 to $76,000.
  • Graduation and retention improvements. In the past five years, our six-year graduation rate has risen 10 percentage points to 70 percent, and our first-year student retention has risen by 3 percentage points to 87 percent. In 2014, UT won the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities’ “Most Visible Progress” Trailblazer award for improving graduation and retention rates.
  • Fundraising. The university has seen fundraising escalate from $72 million in FY 2009 to more than $165 million projected for this fiscal year. Last year, the campus celebrated the strongest year of support in our history with a record $235 million. The Haslam College of Business became the first named college in UT’s history, and we’ve created eighty-nine new faculty endowments. We reinvigorated our annual Family Campaign for faculty and staff and connected with many more donors online through Vol Starter and the annual Big Orange Give. UT has gained 10,000 new donors since 2009.
  • The best, brightest, and the biggest. We are educating more students than ever before. Thanks to an improved graduation rate, we’ve been able to admit larger classes of freshmen for the past few years. Last fall, UT welcomed a record-setting number of freshmen—4,722—and we’re on track to meet or exceed that number this year. Despite this growth, we have continued to welcome students whose academic credentials rival those at our Top 25 peer institutions.
  • Environmental emphasis. Championing our “Make Orange Green” campaign, Cheek has led our university to become an academic environmental leader. The EPA recently listed UT as one of the top ten green power universities in America. The university has also been recognized for its dedication to campus-wide sustainability and innovative green programs including Zero Waste Game Days, the Food Recovery Network, and the Green Revolving Fund. UT also became one of the first large universities in the Southeast to offer a sustainability major.
  • Earned one of higher education’s top designations. In 2015, UT earned the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification for collaborating with community partners to address society’s most pressing needs. Underscoring UT Knoxville’s commitment to this effort, the campus launched Experience Learning, an initiative that seeks to increase students’ opportunities to learn through hands-on experiences and real-world problem solving.
  • Honors for great people. When Chancellor Cheek arrived, we had awarded one honorary doctorate—to statesman Howard H. Baker Jr. We’ve now honored thirteen esteemed alumni and friends, including singer Dolly Parton, First Amendment champion John Seigenthaler, and former vice president Al Gore.