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'I've seen the Volunteer spirit': UTK Chancellor grades spring semester's online learning process

Finals week is underway, and Chancellor Donde Plowman offered key takeaways from the online finish to the spring semester and a look ahead to fall.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Managing a college campus of almost 30,000 people from a home office a little more than eight miles from campus was not in the job description for first year University of Tennessee Chancellor Donde Plowman.

“I am overwhelmed with the positivity of almost everyone. It has been hard, it’s been really hard on our students of course,” explained Chancellor Plowman during a FaceTime call from her home right before finals week.

“We’ve done some pulse surveys to the students to say, ‘how you doing?’ We did this the first week, 80% of the students said they were either doing great or they were nervous but optimistic,” said the chancellor.

The Re-Imagining Fall Task Force is looking at a range of options for a campus restart in the fall. The chancellor noted it includes three basic scenarios ranging from welcoming everyone back to campus and watching football kick-off in September, all the way to starting and finishing the fall semester online with no football.

“We’re moving forward, hoping we have football and planning for it.  Whether it starts on September 5th, they (Southeastern Conference Athletic Directors) are looking at all different options,” said Chancellor Plowman.

On the academic front the chancellor offered this take on the “grade” she would give to the move to online classes in the spring semester. 

“I would give the effort that everyone has put in to making the best of it an A+. I would say I don’t know the quality of what we have done, I would say we have done a great job when you had seven to ten days to plan for it,” explained the chancellor.

She still hopes to host an in-person graduation for seniors in August. That plan has yet to get the “green light,” but in the meantime the university leaders are working to celebrate the graduating class of 2020 with some more surprises online.

“We came up with three goals at the very beginning, let’s be creative, let’s be compassionate, and let’s be flexible -- and I’m really proud of the fact, I think we have done that. And we’ll continue to try to do it,” said Chancellor Plowman.

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