insights (2007-46)

insights

Will UT Harmony Be Restored?

The locus of UTâ’s biggest clash this fall season hasnâ’t been the football field, but rather the turf war between the university systemâ’s hierarchy and its flagship Knoxville campus.

Last weekâ’s lengthy announcement by system President John Petersen and Knoxville Chancellor Loren Crabtree attempts to reconcile their many differences. And it would be nice to think that the refrain from UTâ’s alma-mater pledging â“love and harmonyâ” will once again ring true.

For his part, Petersen made a number of concessions from an August proclamation that had provoked the discord. For one, he in effect rescinded a UT mission statement that was offensive to many academicians. That statement set forth a mission â“to provide the people of Tennessee with access to quality higher education, economic development and enhanced quality-of-life opportunities.â” But it made no mention of research, which many faculty members consider integral to their work; nor did it embrace a quest for academic excellence which Crabtree has championed.

The universityâ’s mission statement now reverts to one adopted by the Board of Trustees in 2006 that, while wordier, includes â“pursuing research and scholarly achievement.â”

More tangibly, Petersen backed down from an August assertion of system control over development of the 200-acre Cherokee Farm, which UTK has long considered to be part of its domain. Instead of placing the systemâ’s executive vice president David Milhorn singularly in-charge of Cherokee Farm development into a research campus, last weekâ’s joint statement vests that responsibility in a four person steering committee consisting of Millhorn, Crabtree, UTâ’s vice president of agriculture Joe DePietro and a representative from Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

In administrative areas near and dear to Crabtree, the statement purportedly gives UTK â“substantial authorityâ” over human resources and information technology functions on its campus. Yet it also calls for the creation of a new system-level chief information officer and the â“hiring of a President-staff level human resources officer to oversee policy and provide direction for all campuses and institutes throughout the system.â”

In truth, HR and IT management responsibilities have been abstruse to the point of being absurd. In the IT area, for example, upon the departure of a systemwide director in February, Petersen announced a restructuring under which much of his responsibility would go to a campus administrator, but she has since retired. No successor has been named, and no one seems to know who is in charge of IT at present.

Management deficiencies would seem to help explain why UTâ’s email system has been the bane of all its users. According to the former president of the Faculty Senate, Lou Gross, some emails can take a week or more to get delivered while, on the other-hand, screens can get cluttered with thousands of misdirected messages. Gross says email is â“only one of many aspects of IT weâ’ve been concerned with.â” And last month, the Faculty Senateâ’s executive committee approved a resolution expressing a lack of confidence in the universityâ’s IT management.

In a preface to last weekâ’s joint announcement of a system-campus accord, Crabtree said, â“Weâ’ve worked hard to establish a roadmap and believe we have reached a point where we can implement steps that will enable us, working together, to achieve the highest ambitions of the University of Tennessee.â”

But many faculty members and Knoxville campus administrators remain disgruntled. â“Itâ’s a roadmap without a destination,â” current faculty Senate President David Patterson says of the six-page statement thatâ’s fraught with ambiguities.

In remarks to the UT Board of Trustees on Friday, Patterson urged the board â“to support a reorganization of UT in which there are clear and firm boundaries between the system and UT Knoxville and through which our campus leadership is empowered.â” He singled out IT and Cherokee Farm development as spheres of campus responsibility on which the system has encroached.

An acid test of the shared responsibility model on which Petersen and Crabtree compromised could be the Cherokee Farm steering committeeâ’s ability to make a prompt decision on the location of a Joint Institute for Advanced Materials thatâ’s due to be the first building to go up there. Itâ’s been three years since Congress and the state Legislature appropriated a combined $40 million for JIAM; and its director, physics professor Ward Plummer, insists that construction work on the new facility is already overdue. But a decision on a Cherokee location has left its exact site subject to a master planning process for the 200-acre tract including the placement of roads, utilities and other infrastructure for which the legislature provided $32 million a year earlier this year.

An aggrieved Plummer contends that JIAM can be sited and construction started concurrently with the infrastructure work. Crabtree says that, â“My view is that it will be fairly easy to site the building, and I think that it can go forward.â” On the other hand, Milhorn stresses the layout of roads and other planning work as prerequisites to JIAM site selection.

Perhaps the UT alma mater should be playing as system and campus leaders meet to seek harmony on this and other issues. â" Joe Sullivan

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All content © 2007 Metropulse .

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