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Petersen addresses Chamber

Dr. John Petersen, president of the University of Tennessee, spoke to about 150 members of the Farragut/West Knox Chamber of Commerce during its speaker breakfast series Monday, Aug. 22, after taking what he dubbed as “time off” from speaking engagements this summer..

“Time off” from speaking, he clarified, but not from running the university system — a task he assumed last July following John Schumaker’s resignation.

Petersen confronted that issue head-on in the beginning of his remarks.

“I told someone the other day in another week I will have succeeded my predecessor in terms of time spent on the job,” he said, after which the audience erupted into applause.

In his speech and in a farragutpress interview, Petersen talked of “partnerships” — collaborations with businesses outside the university system — that are important to the future of the university and the state.

Petersen, who holds a Ph.D. in organic chemistry, explained how many of those collaborations involve research.

“We want to go out and put together packages that are gonna enable us to compete . . . for the ability to drive research and drive innovation and technology,” he said. “Our ability to transfer intellectual discovery into economic development is an important thing that we do at the institution.”

Future plans include a new electrical and computer engineering building filled with “world-class faculty” in biology, computational science, neutron science and nanotechnology.

Petersen tackled tuition costs and pinpointed declining state funding as the main reason for unprecedented tuition increases.

“We’ve seen very flat if not down-turned state appropriations,” he said. “Even though [tuition] has gone up lately, it’s still one of the best buys in the country in terms of the quality of education it delivers. Probably one of the best investments you can make.”

Record numbers are making the investment, he added.

“We’re having the largest freshman classes at all three of our undergraduate campuses that we’ve ever had,” he said. “Hopefully, we’re gonna have to taper this off a little bit before we run out of facilities in the future. … It’s not just a matter of housing students, it’s a matter of also educating them.”

Petersen stressed the importance of maintaining a quality education despite impending overcrowding issues.

“The nature of the jobs that are available to our children compared to us and our parents and grandparents is changing dramatically. … the nature of our workforce is becoming more and more technologically oriented and sophisticated and higher education is becoming sort of a necessity rather than a luxury,” he said. “We’re gonna have to start that culture earlier on in the development of the student rather than wait until they get to the end of high school.”

Petersen also spent some time sharing his view on the upcoming Tennessee Volunteer football season. “We have a tremendous opportunity, but it’s tough out there,” he said. “When you figure three of the first four games, I think, are against teams ranked in the top fifteen, it’s very easy to lose a game. And in this day and age, if you lose a game, you’re blemished for the season as far as some people are concerned.”


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