First, thank you to my son, Ford and my daughter Sloan, for teaching me the most about leadership including patience and humility.
The American Council on Education said presidents and chancellors need “patient endurance and immediate intensity.” So, thank you both for all the training and preparation. You continue to teach me everyday.
To my family, thank you for being my first organization, as families always are.
I was fortunate to have such a large, talented and loving family to believe in me, support me and remind me of the power and importance of hope, faith, compassion, loyalty, acceptance and high expectations—things all leaders need to move an organization forward.
Thank you also for reminding me that those who came before us are in all of us.
Many of you have heard me say, my grandmother was born in Memphis. So, my Tennessee roots and tenacity run deep. Thank you all for instilling in me the desire to want more, to do more and to be more.
That desire too is in the UT DNA, and I think that’s what defines the Tennessee difference. The Volunteer difference. That’s what’s been passed down from generation to generation here. That’s what we’re celebrating today and what we’re counting on to propel us into the future.
I am grateful and blessed for the many friends and colleagues from around the country who came to share this day with us. And I am enormously grateful to President Joe Dipietro and members of the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees for choosing me to lead Tennessee’s flagship campus.
I am proud. I am humbled. I am energized and often awestruck at this job, at this moment in the 223 years of history of this institution.
I look to the future with the promises of the past and the potential of now.
I come with hope. I come with compassion. I come with commitment. I come with endurance—I’m not sure about the patient part, but most of you would agree I have come with “immediate intensity.” With my arms outstretched from the mountains to Memphis. And with the belief that we can capitalize on our past successes to win the day tomorrow.
When others are struggling to differentiate themselves from the 4000 other universities in this country, who will we be?
First, We will be the campus that stands up for each other.
We will be kind.
We will be welcoming.
We will be civil.
We will wait out the naysayers.
We will not back down or close our eyes or our hearts to bigotry or racism or hatred or fascism.
There is no place for injustice at the University of Tennessee.
As Martin Luther King Jr said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Second, we will open our campus to honest and informed intellectual debate—the fundamental hallmark of higher learning that teaches our students how to think critically and what to think about, whether it is the economy, taxes, scientific discoveries, healthcare, education, affordable housing, food scarcity, clean air, water, and more.
But never is it our position to tell students what to think. These are positions for which they are to wrestle.
These are challenging times for sure. The nation is divided. Our communities are divided. The world is divided.But education, and higher education specifically, remains the surest path to solving the world’s grand challenges.
It remains the surest path to social mobility.
It remains the surest path to solving the jobs war Jim Clifton warns us about.
It remains the surest path to reducing poverty, disease, terrorism, the energy problem and more.
It remains the surest path to social and scientific innovations that have the potential to change how we live and how long we live.
So how do we unleash our vision—the UT vision—for meeting some of these grand challenges?
Last month the Washington Post drew a line from Louisville, KY, to Knoxville and dubbed east TN the Maker Belt, and I quote, “This region in East Tennessee is the future of American product development.”
Nothing could be more characteristic of the history and culture of our region.
Elizabeth Gilbert says people are makers out of necessity or creativity. East Tennesseans are both. We are the quintessential makers.
We must and are creating an innovation hub for our generation of makers.
We must encourage entrepreneurship, experimentation, undergraduate research, internships, start-ups, co-ops.
We must be more “outward facing” a term my daughter taught me. Her external focus didn’t come until graduate school where she had multiple co-ops as a requirement of her degree and worked for start-ups.
Our undergraduates need to be out. Like GE, our “growth values” mean we need to see around corners. Anticipate what’s coming. Be out in the world. Know what is needed.
This means we will partner with the city of Knoxville to develop the innovation ecosystem, and partner with the state to attract business.
Many of you have heard me say great universities need great cities. Great cities and states need great universities.
This must be a place people want to come.
Just this Wednesday, I was invited by several community leaders on the East Side of Knoxville to sit at the table as a Thought Partner. We talked about building a future for the kids and helping them imagine the future. We want to bring them on our campus now, show them our facilities and let them dream of a bright future.
It’s on us to make their dreams a reality. To make their dreams, our dreams.
We must be partners in creating a culture of innovation, a culture of prosperity, a culture of economic development, a culture of hope and possibility, a culture of kindness, caring and compassion—by eliminating health and educational disparities and increasing affordable housing, food sources, sustainable resources and places where both old and young can live and work.
Rural problems are often the same as urban problems: access to quality and affordable healthcare, educational equity, living wage jobs, opioid addiction, human trafficking, multi-generational poverty, affordable housing, attracting talent to our region, keeping our water and mountains safe.
These are our cities problems, our state’s problems, and our nation’s problems.
These are problems the University of Tennessee is working to solve.
We must and we will be a part of the solutions. And on many levels we already are.
On the state level, this means we will bring more jobs to Tennessee and with a $1.6 billion economic impact in our region and a half a billion dollars in payroll for 33,000 jobs we are the economic engine of East Tennessee.
But we are poised to be more and to do more.That’s why we will continue to make student access and success a priority.
Giving students an opportunity and carving out a path to get here is one of our top priorities. For this incoming class we are adding nearly $50m more to the $30m the state already provides in HOPE scholarships.
I am so proud that our average gpa is 3.9 and our avg ACT continues to increase, up .2 percent this fall to 27.2, but I am even prouder that a third of our students are Pell eligible and 205 students—almost double from last year—live on our campus but are enrolled at Pellissippi State Community College.
I have already talked with President Anthony Wise about dual enrollment programs and the mayor of Anderson about partnering with the soon-to-be-built Technical campus in her county.
We know the trend is to transfer at least three times during a student’s college life. Remember, this is the bundle generation. Nobody stays in one place anymore. So we will also be known by those partnerships and connections that contribute to an education and innovation hub in East Tennessee.
This is what a Volunteer is. This is what that differentiates us from others.
We aren’t Wildcats, Bobcats, Bearcats or Lions.
We are the first and only Volunteers.
Someone told me that Texas called and asked for 10 to help fight for their independence from Mexico; we sent 10,000. I think that’s a legend, but I want to believe it’s true
We have sent 10 astronauts to space.
We have put an element on the periodic table.
We have the world’s largest wind tunnel for testing jet propulsion.
We have made airplanes more aerodynamic and nuclear energy safer.
Because of Oak Ridge Labs, we lead the world in 3D printing.
We have many outstanding programs that are already ranked among the top 25 in their disciplines in the nation: programs like Nuclear Engineering, Supply Chain Management Architecture, Art and Printmaking.
We will continue to push to have even more of our already excellent programs recognized.
We have spun-off 25 start-ups companies just since 2011.
And we’re three quarters of the way to a $1.1 billion capital campaign.
We’re big and we’re bold but we’re kind, and we’re caring, and that’s the community I want to foster.
At a time when the nation is so marked by vitriol and hate speech, let Tennessee be the torch for inclusiveness which at its core means respect for others ideas, respect that builds teams and commitment to something greater than oneself.
Respect that builds confidence and hope and success.
Respect that builds people up and helps them succeed.
Respect that makes a person whole and strong and able to take on what life hurls at them. That’s the inclusiveness we’ll promote, fight for, model and be known for. That’s the inclusiveness we’ll teach and expect. That’s the inclusiveness that will make our students leaders and job ready.
That’s the kind of inclusiveness that will distinguish Tennessee.
It’s also only fitting in all of this boldness that orange is what defines us.
I didn’t have much orange when I came here a few months ago, but I have come to embrace it and understand its significance. It has helped me to define the Tennessee difference.
Orange is bold. It is strong. It is the sustenance of the sun that nurtures us. It is warm. It is life affirming. And it is just fun.
It is part of what makes us so special.
It is contagious. It is powerful. It is inspirational. It is generational.
It is pride.
You cannot walk into Neyland stadium and not feel it. I’ve actually come to love it. I can’t wait for my kids to see it tomorrow. In it, I see power and strength and vibrancy and boldness.
I see the state’s University.
I see the pride of Tennessee. I see 223 years of a tradition, and that’s what keeps us going.
That’s the volunteer spirit. That’s the Tennessee Difference
We are leaders. We servants. We are torchbearers. We are competitors.
We are winners.
Today is a historic event for the university. Because you stand ready to begin again. To step into a new tomorrow. Into that next part of the journey.
Look at this campus, look at these students, look at the faculty, look at these buildings and the staff that have built and maintained them.
They have never looked better.
I’m so impressed.
Since 1794, The University of Tennessee has always stood ready for the next verse of the Tennessee waltz.
So, let us be worthy of the grace we have been given.
Let us give thanks for our intellectual capital and educational opportunity our pride of place, our love of learning, our competitive spirit, and our potential that compels us upward.
So, Rise up, Tennessee.
Take on this challenge again with me.
The challenge to do better, to be better, to live better and to compete better, in a place we call Rocky Top, where we all wear orange.
Rise Up, Tennessee, Rise Up!