insights (2007-16)

John Petersen's Scorecard

As he approaches completion of three years on the job, UT President John Petersen has gotten a lot of accolades for his accomplishments. In his own low-key way, Petersen sums them up by saying, "We've brought some stability to the university; we've got a good team and a great connection with Oak Ridge; we've got a strategic plan with everybody's buy in and a governor who's been supportive. When you bring it all together, I believe we're in good shape."

When it comes to translating this foundation into future goals, though, trustees have been looking to Petersen to quantify them on a scorecard, and that scorecard has seemingly been slow in taking shape. Even now, its metrics are labeled as preliminary, and Petersen characterizes them as "a moving target we're going to have to keep looking at."

Indeed, some of the goals enumerated in the latest version appear to represent a lowering of sights, and others that loomed large in previous iterations have been deleted altogether. On the other hand, UT appears to be well on its way to surpassing other scorecard goals. Consider the following distillation from the latest list of some 25 metrics:

Enrollment Growth

Petersen explains that, "All I suggested was that [the 8,000 growth] was something we ought to look at. We've got a lot of work to do to make sure we've got our ducks in a row." Meanwhile, near-term plans for the new Cherokee campus that Chancellor Loren Crabtree portrayed last fall have been curtailed.

Graduation Rates

As a graduation subset, the scorecard calls for increasing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) graduates to 20 percent of the total in 2010 from 16 percent in 2005. Yet this would still leave UT well below the 23 percent average of other southern state universities that are deemed to be its peers by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.


Despite the lure of ORNL's Spallation Neutron Source and supercomputing capabilities, however, UT has only managed to fill one Governor's chair position. Petersen says four more are now "in the pipeline." But the university's vice president for research David Millhorn (who has also recently become its executive vice president) says the quest remains difficult. "It's taken longer because it's very hard to find someone who wants to work for a university that would fit programmatically with Oak Ridge," Millhorn relates. Filling the Governor's Chairs has been conspicuously omitted from an earlier iteration of scorecard goals.

When it comes to total research grants and contracts garnered by the university, the scorecard goal is $350 million in 2010, up from $312 million in 2005. Yet the Governor's Chair holders and the teams of researchers they'd be expected to assemble would figure to generate enough incremental funding to exceed the goal all by themselves. Still, Petersen holds out hope it could be exceeded very soon if UT is selected for any of three major grants for which it is competing. One is a $125 million Department of Energy grant for bio-energy research, and the biggest of them all is a $364 million National Science Foundation grant for assembling what's called a petascale computer, many times more powerful than ORNL's supercomputer that's been touted as the most powerful in the civilian world.

Fund Raising

Petersen, in fact, has a lot of things to be proud of, but his scorecard isn't one of them.