Always a Volunteer

Produced February 6, 2017

After eight years of transformational leadership, Jimmy G. Cheek wrapped up his tenure as our seventh chancellor.

Preparing to join the faculty of the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, Cheek reflected on what he calls “the best job I’ve ever had.”

“As I think about everything that has happened in my time here—there are so many good things and great accomplishments—I am most proud of the hard work of the team on our campus,” he said.

Soon after arriving in 2009, Cheek accepted a challenge from then-Governor Phil Bredesen to move UT into the ranks of Top 25 public research universities. Campus-wide enthusiasm and collaboration have led to progress on the initial priorities: undergraduate and graduate education, recruitment and retention of stellar faculty and staff, improved facilities and an increased resource base, and expanded research and outreach. Diversity has since been added as a priority.

More than $1 billion has been invested in new buildings, renovations, and outdoor spaces and grounds. These include six new academic buildings, four residence halls, and the new state-of-the-art Student Union. Ayres Hall was restored to its full grandeur and the steam plant was converted to gas, removing two large smokestacks and eliminating the university’s use of coal.

Strong Hall, a much-needed classroom and laboratory building on Cumberland Avenue, will open its doors in March, while the Ken and Blaire Mossman Building, another new classroom and laboratory building, is taking shape.

Cheek has provided the resources and oversight to help strengthen and promote the university’s brand.

“Although we know that great things are happening here, the outside world hasn’t always noticed. We set out to change that,” he said.

Cheek’s tenure coincides with significant research momentum through the university’s partnership with Oak Ridge National Laboratory and other public and private entities. He appointed 14 of the current 15 UT-ORNL Governor’s Chairs and landed several high-profile research centers—including the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation and CURENT, UT’s first National Science Foundation engineering research center.

Some of the nation’s most promising young scholars enroll in the Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education. Created in partnership with ORNL, the Bredesen Center has a fast-growing interdisciplinary energy sciences and engineering degree program and a proposed new PhD in data sciences and engineering.

The chancellor is always the first to credit the successes of his tenure to faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends—the Volunteer family that extends beyond our campus borders.

“Accomplishments of the past eight years would not have been possible without the support of alumni and friends,” he said.

Transformational gifts have led to our first two named colleges—the Haslam College of Business and the Tickle College of Engineering.

Fundraising has grown from $72 million in fiscal year 2009 to $167 million in fiscal year 2016. More than 43,000 donors invested in UT last year—an increase of more than 10,000 donors over the past three years.

“We’ve faced challenges over the past eight years, but when I think about what we’ve accomplished together, I’m proud—and humbled,” Cheek said. “Thank you for allowing me to be your chancellor. I am, and will always be, a Volunteer.”

This story is part of the University of Tennessee’s 225th anniversary celebration. Volunteers light the way for others across Tennessee and throughout the world.