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  The Year in Review


Gilley's New Broom Starts Sweeping at UT

UT's new president J. Wade Gilley has begun shaking up its established order much more quickly than most would have supposed when he took office Aug. 1. Often sounding more like a devotee of corporate restructuring than of academic pursuits, Gilly has moved with a vengeance to whack administrative overhead and consolidate UT's main campuses under his command.

Any notion that UT's flagship Knoxville campus would gain more autonomy under the new regime was quickly dispelled as Gilley sought the retirement of its venerable chancellor, Bill Snyder, and eliminated the title if not the position. Corporate titles are now the order of the day with Gilley as the CEO of an amalgamation of the Knoxville campus with the Medical School in Memphis and the Space Institute in Tullahoma. Each of these units now have vice presidents who serve as their chief operating officers.

Nor did Gilley turn to an academic to head a new Committee on the Future of the University that is charged with recommending "strategic directions." Instead, he picked the CEO of Battelle Corp., with whom UT is partnering in the management of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Still, his corporate-style shake up appears intended to be the means to academic ends. A projected $30 million in administration savings over the next five years would contribute to a $150 million in new funding for what Gilley is heralding as the Tennessee Plan for academic excellence. Other sources include revenues from licensing fees, credit cards and the like, plus a special $60 million fund-raising campaign over a five year period as well. Uses would be concentrated on raising UT's research capabilities toward a goal of doubling the $74 million in research grants received this past year by 2007.

Conspicuously missing from this equation is an increase in state funding which has remained flat for the past five years and caused faculty salaries to lag ever further behind surrounding states that have been beefing up their higher education systems. Only tax reform can yield the additional $60 million a year needed to bring UT back up to a formula for funding established by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission that has been honored in the breach. Gilley has also championed tax reform, awkwardly at times, but seems intent on showing that UT can make progress even without it.

Atomic University

Joining a bare handful of prestigious research institutions such as the University of California-Berkeley, the University of Tennessee placed a giant feather in its academic cap in 1999, winning the primary contractor's role at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The contractorship was held for more than 15 years by Lockheed Martin Energy Systems; but in 1998, the Department of Energy announced the contract would be re-bid despite Lockheed's years at the helm. UT officials allied themselves with the Battelle Institute, and in summer of '98 began hammering out the proposal that would ultimately lead to lab oversight.

The odyssey was a strange one; Lockheed announced first that it would not re-bid, then mysteriously re-entered the process in late winter after the deadline for submission had passed. Politics aside, however, UT-Battelle was proclaimed new prime contractor this fall, apparently on the strength of a proposal that received high marks from several Oak Ridge insiders.

Battelle will handle most of the management and oversight issues, leaving the university to strengthen its already-numerous partnerships with ORNL, a multi-billion dollar operation with programs that span the entire gamut of scientific exploration. The college's new standing should serve as a shining beacon, an important tool in recruiting outstanding faculty and students alike.

What Was and What is at UT Med Center

In the last year: The university shed the financial burden of the UT Medical Center, creating a non-profit called University Health Systems to shoulder the weight of this teaching hospital. After UHS took over in August, the University of Tennessee Graduate School of Medicine instituted a pay cut for faculty. The cut made some nervous about the university's commitment to the Med School, which is currently headquartered in Memphis.

The Learning Curve

Knox County schools got a new superintendent this summer, and it's been a bumpy first semester for him. Charles Lindsey is the first Knox schools chief hired from outside the county (he came, most recently, from South Carolina), which gave him a black mark from the get-go with some of the school system's traditionalists. It didn't help that one of the people passed over for the job by the county school board was eminently likable assistant superintendent Roy Mullins, who had been serving as interim superintendent since his old boss Allen Morgan retired last year. Lindsey, who talks a lot about making Knox County an "internationally competitive" school system, had his first showdown with the ol' boy old guard in August. When Gibbs High School Principal Jerry Sharp sent parents a strongly worded memo taking issue with Lindsey's stance on stricter school dress codes (Lindsey had told Sharp to hold off until a countywide code could be developed), the new supe demoted the veteran administrator to classroom teacher. Sharp filed a still-pending lawsuit appealing the move, but public opinion was divided; although Sharp has his supporters, his generally abrasive demeanor as principal had earned him plenty of detractors over the years. There was no such split a few months later, when News-Sentinel reporter David Keim revealed that Lindsey had taken to sending confidential memos to school board members, skirting open records laws by disguising the missives as entries in his personal diary. Nothing in the memos was particularly damning—apart from a widely hooted-at misspelling of the word "moot"—but the boneheaded tactic raised some questions about Lindsey's judgment and integrity. Well, you're never too old to learn...