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Chancellor says improved student experience, UT culture and impactful research are college's goals

During her third annual flagship address, Chancellor Donde Plowman identified five goals for the university moving forward.
Credit: University of Tennessee Knoxville

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Last year, Chancellor Donde Plowman had to give her second flagship address virtually for the University of Tennessee community. She was not able to give it in person due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Tuesday, she was able to stand before a podium and celebrate the university's accomplishments for her third annual flagship address with an audience. 

She spoke about the university being named a top-10 employer by Forbes and setting a record for student scholarships. She also said that the school enrolled the largest student body in the university's history.

"Every day I am inspired by the Volunteers that I encounter on campus and beyond our campus, they generously share with me their stories, their concerns, their ambitions," she said during the address. "And it is a privilege to lead this university, and I’m grateful every single day to be part of this thriving community."

During the address, she also outlined a vision for the future of the University of Tennessee. She identified five goals that leadership said they would focus on moving forward:

  1. Cultivate the Volunteer Experience
  2. Conduct research that makes life and lives better in Tennessee and beyond
  3. Ensure a culture where Vol is a Verb
  4. Make ourselves nimble and adaptable
  5. Embody the modern land-grant university

During the address, she also told stories of her experience in the UT community that she said illustrated each goal. For example, she said spoke about the work she saw students do to improve individual experiences on campus.

To illustrate this goal, she said a first-year studies class voted to move their meeting location so that a student would not have to rush across campus to be there on time.

"We all have a responsibility to ensure our colleagues and peers feel like they belong here," she said. "Standing up for others can be such a small action. But when a stadium full of your peers do it, it can have a big impact. Vol is a Verb is a commitment to act in moments big and small."

However, she did not directly address some of the issues consistently reported across campus. For example, UTK was voted as the second-most LGBTQ+ unfriendly university in the U.S. in 2020.

Plowman also spoke about a smart-bridge UT developed that was recently built in Morgan County. It is designed to be stronger than steel and easier to maintain, with sensors that provide real-time information about stress on the bridge.

She also spoke briefly about the Tennessee Riverline project, which connects hundreds of miles of trails across three different states.

Plowman also suggested reevaluating existing structures and processes to improve the university's adaptability. She said the university's ability to adopt online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic showed its ability to react quickly to new demands and said it could be applied to other areas too.

"Creating a culture of collaboration, agility, and innovation is about removing barriers to success and empowering people to make the changes we need to pursue our goals," she said. "It’s about examining our structures and our processes—some of which have been in place for decades—and asking: “Is this still the best way to do this?"

She said that she would present the university's strategic vision for the future to the Board of Trustees next month, seeking approval. There, she said she will discuss the metrics that the university will use to measure success.

"I want all of us, every day, to be inspired by the same pledge our students take and to recommit ourselves, starting today, to the covenant we have with the people and the communities we serve," she said. "To step forward in moments big and small, to serve and to lead, and to light the way for others."