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Cheek keynotes FWK Chamber breakfast

The University of Tennessee Knoxville Chancellor Jimmy Cheek enlightened Farragut West Knox Chamber members about UT’s quest to become a Top 25 school at a Chamber speaker series breakfast Tuesday, Nov. 30.

“Volunteers think big. Volunteers always believe in being the best,” Cheek said.

Cheek has been given the goal of bringing UT up to a Top 25 school nationally (it currently ranks 47) in 10 years.

“We’ve got to build relationships to make that happen,” Cheek told the breakfast attendees.

That includes expanding relationships between UT and local community colleges, including Roane State and Pellissippi, and with ORNL and Y-12.

“Think about the synergy there,” Cheek said.

Part of the larger Top 25 aspiration is several smaller goals, including increasing UT’s retention rate and graduation rate.

“That graduation rate is what I most worry about,” Cheek said.

“You need to graduate in four years,” he said.

UT’s current six-year graduation rate is 60 percent. A Top 25 school has a six-year graduation rate of 75 percent.

Les Fout, Pellissippi State Community College, asked Cheek how he hoped to achieve Top 25 status without any new funding from the state.

“We’re going to get more money; we’re just going to have to get it in a different way,” Cheek said.

The biggest part of that, he said, was a hike in tuition.

“Students will have to pay more money to go to school. We have to change that model, and that’s going to be a tough sell,” Cheek said.

He told Chamber members more than half of all UT students graduate without any debt from student loans, and many students receive more aid than their tuition actually costs.

“I’m not encouraging debt, but if you have no other options, that is an option,” Cheek said.

Mike Arms of Knox County asked Cheek about UT’s governor’s chairs — a program that attracts researchers in various scientific fields with joint appointments as tenured professors at UT and distinguished research staff at ORNL.

Cheek said he’d hired seven governor’s chairs in the past year, and two of the researchers had applied for large federal grants, including one in the field of nuclear engineering.

“Those are major game changers,” Cheek said.

“Research translates into more economic development,” he added.

Greg Scribner, American Piano Gallery, had one last question for Cheek: when will the Vols win a national championship?

“It’s on our goal sheet,” Cheek said of himself and football coach Derek Dooley.

“He’s going to create a culture that is going to make us proud of our players,” he added.


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