Archived Frequently Asked Questions
Posted Fall 2010
How did the Top 25 quest come to be?
In January 2010, the state challenged UT to become a Top 25 public research university in a decade. UT accepted this challenge, knowing that the journey will be as important as the end result and that improvements we make will:
- Increase the quality and value of education
- Further develop our strengths in research
- Expand our contribution to economic growth and development
- Strengthen the University of Tennessee's flagship campus for the benefit of all Tennesseans
What universities do we consider the nation's "Top 25" and how did we arrive at these?
UT Knoxville is ranked 47th on U.S. News and World Report's 2011 list of the nation's top public institutions. The Top 25 Task Force deliberated carefully and extensively to define the list of universities against which UTK should compare itself and its performance over time. To compile our benchmark list schools, we looked not only at U.S. News and World Report, but also rankings by the Center for Measuring University Performance, the Association of American Universities membership, and information from strategic planning documentation at the University of Kentucky and the University of Florida. This helped us to identify the 27 public research universities ranked above us. These universities were then divided into three groups—our "aspiration group," our "target group," and our "current peer group."
Why do we use U.S. News & World Report's ranking list as a benchmark list?
While this ranking is only one gauge of the quality of an academic institution, it is widely recognized, cited and provides a reference point that is accepted by a national audience. This context contributed to UTK's initiative to build a plan for becoming a Top 25 public research university.
To compile its rankings, U.S. News & World Report uses "widely accepted indicators of excellence," including assessment by administrators at peer institutions; freshman retention rate; six-year graduate rate; class size, faculty salary rates; proportion of professors who are full time and hold the highest degree in their fields; student-faculty ratio; academic quality of students (measured by the average ACT scores of incoming freshmen); the rate of acceptance of applicants; per-student spending; and alumni giving. These metrics contributed to identifying the comparison institutions. We've added to these indicators research/scholarship and graduate programs.
What do we need to do to become a Top 25 public research university?
By comparing ourselves to the universities on our benchmark list, we've set five priority areas:
- undergraduate education,
- graduate education,
- faculty and staff
- infrastructure and resources.
In each of our priority areas, we are now developing action plans to improve key metrics – for example, increasing our retention and graduate rate; increasing the number of Ph.D.s we award; increasing research expenditures, etc.
As the diagram below indicates, there is overlap and synergy between each of our priority areas. Undergraduate education, graduate education, and research and scholarship are central to the mission of the university and are nested within the responsibility of faculty. To accomplish the mission of the university, the academic community needs appropriate infrastructure and resources including a dedicated staff and state-of-the-art facilities.
It will take all of us—administration, faculty, staff, students, alumni and supporters —working together, to achieve this goal.
Where are we in the implementation process?
Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek has appointed implementation teams (see end of FAQ for list of members) to develop action plans for each of these areas. The undergraduate team—which was the first to begin work—issued its draft plan in early 2011. Other teams will have draft action plans ready in the first half of 2011. At the June 2011 board meeting, Chancellor Cheek plans to provide a comprehensive overview of the plans with details about costs and needed resources.
It made sense to begin with the undergraduate plan. Thanks, in part, to the Legislature's passage of the Complete College Tennessee Act, some work was already being done and progress was already being made on some critical issues related to undergraduate education, including transfer students and changes in state formula that emphasize outcome (graduation rate).
How do the Top 25 quest and VOL Vision relate to each other?
VOL Vision 2015: The Road to the Top 25 is a strategically focused document that will help us ensure campus activities and efforts support the five priorities in our Top 25 quest.
How can we make these plans at a time when faculty and staff haven't received raises in years?
We're looking at efficiencies in the way we deliver education and operate the university that could free up money to provide both raises and investments in the Top 25. Also, as we improve, we demonstrate excellence and value which will help the state and others will see the benefits in investing in us.
How can we do this in such difficult economic times?
Tight budget times are the best times for planning; they force us to refocus on our mission. Then, as the economy strengthens and resources become more available, we have a prioritized plan about how to use new monies.
How much will this effort cost?
We don't know yet; part of the planning process is determining cost.
How are we going to pay for this?
Sources of funds are not being reviewed at this point, but other schools who have undertaken similar efforts have funded them through a variety of sources. In each plan, there is a focus on good stewardship of funds, including making the best use of current resources and accountability for any potential future funding.
Why be a Top 25 university?
The quest for the Top 25 challenges each of us to be better and make the university stronger. Additionally:
- It makes it easier to recruit stellar faculty and retain our exceptional faculty.
- It creates a more enriched and energized teaching environment; working with high-ability students is invigorating.
- It makes it easier to generate external funding that supports research and overall university operations.
- It positions the university to attract investments for state-of-the-art research facilities, classrooms, technology.
- It garners more recognition from academic community worldwide.
- It evokes pride, loyalty, and support from community and state.
- It elevates the status of everyone who works at the university.
How can I help?
- Discuss with your colleagues how your unit, department and college compare to those Top 25 universities.
- After benchmarking, develop plans for your unit, department and college that support the university's Top 25 action plans.
- Provide feedback.
- Get engaged in day-to-day activities that contribute to meeting the spirit and goals of VOL Vision 2015/Top 25 initiative.
Is this going to increase my workload?
The idea is not to increase workload but to better distribute tasks so everyone does what they're best at doing. Through the planning process, looking at efficiencies and effectiveness, we'll hone in on the tasks that are most important to the university's mission.
How will the plan help us improve the graduation rate?
- By giving students resources and tools for better academic planning.
- By giving department better resources and tools to anticipate student needs, to better utilize faculty and staff time, and to better schedule classrooms and teaching labs to reduce barriers to progress towards graduation.
- Through better use of summer school.
- Through gathering data that helps us better understand why UT students fail to complete their degrees or graduate on timely basis and address the dynamics of these situations.
Does this affect students?
We are going to provide a better environment for students to better manage their responsibilities, which include:
- Wise scheduling
- Making sure students understand the sequence of courses they need to progress toward completion in a given major.
- Minimizing the number of late drops and withdrawals.
Why is data a foundational priority?
It's needed to make informed decisions. Too often we make decisions based on anecdotal information or weak data.
Who are the people serving on these implementation teams?
- Chair, Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs Sarah Gardial
- Terry Esper, assistant professor of marketing and logistics
- Carol Harden, geography professor
- Beauvais Lyons, professor in the School of Art
- Lynne Parker, professor in electrical engineering and computer science
- Marva Rudolph, director of the Office of Equity and Diversity
- Matthew Theriot, associate professor in the College of Social Work
- Brian Wirth, Governor's Chair and professor in nuclear engineering and
- John Zomchick, associate dean and professor in the College of Arts and Sciences
- Chair, Vice Provost Carolyn Hodges, dean of the Graduate School
- Vince Anfara, professor of educational leadership and development
- Jim Brace, associate dean of veterinary medicine
- Ernest Brothers, assistant dean of the Graduate School
- Maxine Thompson Davis, dean of students
- Yvonne Kilpatrick, interim director, Graduate and International Admissions
- Tom Ladd, associate dean in the College of Business Administration
- Jan Lee, professor and associate dean in nursing administration
- Andrew Morse, president of the Graduate Student Senate
- Stefanie Ohnesorg, associate professor in modern foreign languages
- Masood Parang, associate dean and professor of engineering
- Carol McCrehan Parker, associate professor and associate dean in the College of Law
- Kay Reed, assistant dean of the Graduate School; and
- Lee Riedinger, director of CIRE
- Cynthia Rocha, professor and associate dean of social work
- Scott Wall, professor and director of the school of architecture.
Infrastructure and Resources
- Chair, Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration Chris Cimino
- Bob Campbell, associate information officer
- Linda Davidson, vice chancellor for development and alumni affairs
- Sarah Gardial, vice provost for faculty affairs
- Linda Hendricks, vice chancellor for human resources
- Wes Hines, interim vice chancellor for research
- Carolyn Hodges, vice provost and dean of the Graduate School, and
- Sally McMillan, vice provost for academic affairs
- Chair, Interim Vice Chancellor for Research Wes Hines
- Chris Boake, associate dean and professor in the College of Arts and Sciences
- Bill Brown, dean, UT AgResearch.
- Bill Dunne, associate dean, College of Engineering
- Tom Ladd, associate dean in the College of Business Administration
- Greg Reed, associate vice chancellor for research
- Bob Rider, dean of the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences
- Ken Stephenson, mathematics professor
- Carol Tenopir, professor in the School of Information Sciences
- Co-chairs, Tom Cervone, Director of Theatre and President of UTK Exempt Staff Council and Mike Herbstritt, Team Leader, HR-Employee Relations
- Debra Douglas, Administrative Support Assistant III, Journalism and Employee Relations Council Rep
- Tony Givens, Team Leader, HR-Recruitment
- Valeria Hodge, Senior Associate III, UT Library and Employee Relations Council Rep
- Roger McDonald, Electrical Foreman, Facilities Services (previously on ERC, but recently promoted to supervisor)
- Kathy Morgan, Administrative Support Assistant III, Housing and Employee Relations Council Rep
- Margaret Norris, Institute for Public Service, Municipal Management consultant
- Anton Reece, Director, Student Success Center
- Ann Robinson-Craig, Budget Director, Arts & Sciences
- Chair, Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Sally McMillan
- Richard Bayer, assistant provost and director of enrollment services; and
- Chris Cimino, vice chancellor for finance and administration.
- Ruth Darling, assistant provost
- John Koontz, professor of biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology
- Melissa Shivers, assistant vice chancellor for student affairs