:Chattanooga; :Aug 26, 2009; :Front Page; :1

UT struggles with identity crisis, trustees say

By Joan Garrett jgarrett@timesfreepress.com

Online: Watch Jim Mur phy talk about what happened at the workshop. Read the UT system repor t on campus and system relations. Read previous stories. Comment.

    PIKEVILLE, Tenn. — The University of Tennessee system is facing an identity crisis, officials say.

    And trustees, troubled by poor communication, inefficiencies and a bloated administrative staff, are wondering whether the UT system needs a total overhaul.

    Some officials say a new, improved system should be relocated, renamed, slimmed down and less focused on the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

    “The brand was the Knoxville campus; that is what the Legislature had the most interest in,” UT Interim President Jan Simek said Tuesday. “As the other campuses have grown and evolved they have their own constituencies, and that hasn’t always been addressed. We have grown up from a system that was Knoxville-driven to a situation where it is not anymore.”

    UT campus chancellors, who met Tuesday with trustees and system officials for a workshop at Fall Creek Falls State Park in Pikeville, said animosity
between campuses and the system has grown in recent years.

    Jimmy Cheeks, chancellor of the University of Tennessee, and Roger Brown, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga chancellor, said the system needs to stop micromanaging individual campus capitol projects.

    The system has been approving small changes to campus projects without consulting campus leaders, officials said.

    “If I am responsible for the cost, I want to have control over the project,” Dr. Cheeks said.

    UT system chancellors also said they are not being included in prioritizing the capitol project needs presented to the state.

    “The chancellors put in their priorities, but there isn’t a lot of discussion after that,” said Joe DiPietro, vice president of agriculture at UT. “It would be healthy for the system to work with the chancellors to have a budget hearing and present their top three projects.”

    While officials made a laundry list of functional changes needed at Tuesday’s meeting, there also was lengthy discussion about changing the perception that the system is both too involved on campuses and too focused on Knoxville.

    “In the past, there has been tension about the campuses not getting what they wanted,” said UT Board Vice Chairman Jim Murphy. “There is a perception that decisions were made that were in favor of Knoxville and to the detriment of Chattanooga.”

    Dr. Simek said the UT system offices, now housed in the same building as the UT chancellor, should move off the Knoxville campus, and board members agreed.

    “I think the system needs to be renamed and relocated,” said trustee Karl Schledwitz. “As long as the (system and UT Knoxville) are joined at the hip and riding the same elevator to work, you are never going to get rid of that jealousy that exists in Chattanooga, Martin and Memphis.”

    Dr. Simek said he is considering relocating the system to a building in downtown Knoxville, and the board may consider moving the system to Nashville in the next few years.

    Several trustees said the title of UT president should be changed before the board begins the search for a new president. Trustee George Cates suggested the title of “chief executive officer.”