insights (2006-20)

Keeping Scores at UT

A centerpiece of John Shumaker’s short-lived presidency at UT was a scorecard for measuring progress toward a long list of goals by 2010. While his successor, John Petersen, has placed more emphasis on setting strategic goals than running things by the numbers, he has been mandated by UT’s board of trustees to develope a new set of institutional performance measures. And UT’s president has, in turn, looked to Chancellor Loren Crabtree and the heads of other academic units to develop scorecards of their own.

Petersen is understandably reluctant to talk about his scorecard until he’s presented it to trustees at their June meeting. But a review of the measurements with which he and Crabtree have been working reveal that substantial progress is already being made toward achievement of the goals that Shumaker set for 2010. Consider the following gains from Shumaker’s base year of 2001 and the prospect for more of the same.

Students: The retention rate for freshmen on the Knoxville campus has gone from 75 percent in 2001 to 81 percent this year, and the graduation rate has grown from 55 percent to almost 60 percent. Both Petersen and Crabtree believe that 2010 goals of 85 percent retention and 65 percent graduation are well within reach.

Those gains can be attributed in large part to the strengthened academic quality of UT’s student body, helped mightily by the advent of lottery scholarships. The average ACT score of entering freshman is now up to 26.8 from 24 in 2001, and a 2010 goal of 27 should be attained much sooner than anyone might have expected then.

Faculty: In 2001, it would have taken $23 million to bring faculty salaries up to the median of 10 peer institutions against whom UT is benchmarked by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. That shortfall has been reduced to $13 million presently, but it’s going to take a lot of doing to achieve a goal of parity by 2010.

At the upper echelons, a key measure of a university’s stature is the number of faculty members who belong to the National Academies of Science and Engineering. In 2001, UT had only two, and one of them departed soon thereafter. With the recent admission of physics professor Ward Plummer, that number has grown to five. A 2010 goal of 15 that Crabtree has embraced could well be satisfied by the global quest that’s underway for 15 distinguished scientists to conduct their research at four joint institutes that UT has established in conjunction with Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Crabtree also believes that UT also has several promising candidates for academy admission from within its existing faculty ranks.

Research: Even prior to filling any of the joint institute positions, UT research expenditures have grown from $160 million in 2001 to $243 million in 2005. That’s well on the way toward achieving a 2010 goal of $300 million that would put UT in the upper echelons of public universities.

Private fundraising: Private donations to UT surged to $157 million last year from an average of around $80 million in the early years of this decade. With the recent $32.5 million gift from Jim and Natalie Haslam already in hand, Petersen voices confidence that last year’s total will at least be equaled in 2006. That already exceeds the $140 million annual goal Shumaker had set for 2010—all the more remarkably since it comes prior to the heralded $1 billion capital campaign that the university has been planning for some time.

Petersen won’t be pinned down as to when the big campaign may formally get underway or for how long it may extend. But he notes that, “At the end of the campaign we’d like to have annual giving twice what it was at the beginning.” That, too, would place UT in the top ranks among public universities (though it needs to be borne in mind that much of this money will be placed in trusts or endowment from which UT will only realize the income).

These are just a few of many goals that are encompassed within a strategic plan that Petersen presented to trustees in March. The plan expounds on them in six broad categories: student access, student success, research and scholarship, outreach, economic development and globalization. But Petersen doesn’t foresee quantifying anything like as many as the 62 measures that went on Shumaker’s scorecard. “We’ve tried to capture about 15 goals we thought were measurable within the six areas talked about,” he says.

Petersen is approaching the two-year mark at UT’s helm. And with or without a scorecard he will get high marks in the annual evaluation of his performance by the chairman of the executive committee of the Board of Trustees, Don Stansberry. “We’ve got a dynamite president, and the team he’s built is one of the most impressive things about him,” Stansberry says. “The most exciting thing that’s going on at UT is his efforts to move us into a position to really affect the Tennessee economy both through collaboration with ORNL and by building his research team and making it more relevant to business and job growth,” he adds.

That theme resonates with Gov. Phil Bredesen and the state Legislature and should help UT make progress in one key area where it’s actually lost ground over the past four years: state funding for university operations.