Address to the UT Board of Trustees, June 17, 2009

John Nolt

 

          Thank you for this opportunity to address the Board.  It’s always an honor to stand before such an accomplished group.  On behalf of the faculty of the Knoxville Campus, the Space Institute and the Institute of Agriculture, all of whom are represented in the UTK Faculty Senate, thanks to each of you for the valuable time and extraordinary talents that you devote to the improvement of our University.

          We are especially grateful for the support you have given us through these tough budgetary times.  When I spoke with you last October, I noted that UTK still had not recovered from the losses of regular faculty positions that we sustained the late 1990s.  At that time we anticipated additional losses this year, but with the federal stimulus package, we received a two-year reprieve.  We are all, however, well aware of the infamous cliff that lies beyond that.

          The faculty understand what needs be done.  We are, first of all, making serious efforts to be frugal.  Faculty, staff and students have all pitched in to the campus energy conservation campaign.  Over the last nine months we have reduced our electricity consumption by an average of 6% compared to the previous year.  The greatest savings have come in recent months.  Thus, for example, despite a 7.2% increase in the electrical utility rate, UTK’s electricity bill for April of this year was roughly the same as for April of last year.[1]

          The faculty also know that we must be prepared for the worst.  We have worked cooperatively with Provost Susan Martin over the past year to create rational and mutually-agreed-upon policies for program reduction, reorganization and elimination.  Still, it is our position that cuts that are justified not by good academic reasons, but only by harsh budgetary necessity, must be a last resort. 

          Before cutting useful academic programs, which are the heart of our university, we must carefully exhaust all other options for fiscal savings.  The Faculty Senate fully supports Acting President Simek’s efforts to reduce system administrative costs.  We appreciate your wisdom in choosing Jan Simek for that job. 

          We are grateful, too, for the work of Chancellor Cheek and Vice President DiPietro to reduce costs on their respective campuses.

          Efficiencies can be achieved, however, not only within the UT system but also in a broader context.  Thus the Faculty Senate is intrigued by the possibility of a statewide restructuring of higher education.

          In April, I was elected President of Tennessee University Faculty Senates.  That’s T-U-F-S (TUFS).  The name is, perhaps, an exaggeration.  We don’t exactly come to meetings in leather jackets.  In fact TUFS represents, I think, a new spirit of collaboration among the faculty of the two systems.  The organization includes representatives from all the faculty senates in the UT system and five of the six senates from the four-year Board of Regents schools.  At our April retreat we had a spirited discussion of the opportunities and risks of statewide reorganization.  We did not settle on any one model for Tennessee higher education administration—we don’t yet know enough for that—but we did reach a consensus that all of us should be less concerned with defending our own academic turf and more concerned with achieving the best possible education for our students.  We considered some exciting possibilities for collaboration between the two systems, and we aim to bring those ideas to the ongoing reorganization discussion.

          We were therefore encouraged when late this spring TBR Chancellor Manning and Acting President Simek created a Task Force on Higher Education, with Bonnie Yegedis and Paula Short as co-chairs.  The task force includes two active TUFS members, one from the TBR system (Ed Stevens) and one from the UT system (myself).  This is a hopeful start, not only toward greater statewide efficiency, but also toward creative cooperation.

Still given the continual decrease in state support as a percentage of our budget, efficiency, no matter how rigorously pursued at no matter what levels, will never be enough.  UT cannot make significant progress—or even return to the staffing levels of fifteen years ago—without revenue enhancement.  Development efforts will help and so to a small degree will our recent spectacular gains in funded research, but even these do not come close to making up for the losses in state appropriations and the increases in fixed costs.  It simply is not possible for us to maintain levels of service without passing some of our losses and increasing costs on to students.  Thus the Faculty Senate fully supports the proposed tuition and fee increases in the FY 2010 budget that will come before you this afternoon.

We understand the additional burdens that these increases will place on students and their parents.  As a parent of both a 2008 UT graduate and an entering UT freshman, I myself am not eager to pay more—especially since my own salary, like the salaries of most faculty members, has in recent years failed to keep up with inflation.  But, like most of my colleagues, I believe in this University.  We offer a superb education here.  It’s a bargain and will continue to be a bargain even with the proposed increases.

          It’s been a privilege to serve as President of the Faculty Senate this year.  I have been repeatedly amazed at the professionalism and depth of commitment of both the faculty and the administrators with whom I have worked. 

          I will leave the Senate in trustworthy hands.  My successor, Toby Boulet, has as President-elect already demonstrated the hard work, intelligence and leadership it will take to guide the Senate through another challenging year.

          I have enjoyed working with all of you.  Thank you once again for letting me have my say.  And thank you most of all for your service to the University of Tennessee.

 



[1] The total electric cost for April 2009 ($1,226,504) was about the same as that incurred during April 2008 ($1,222,919) - this despite a 7.2 percent increase in electric rates!  This suggests that the university’s energy efficiency and energy conservation efforts are paying off.