A Vision for the Future

Dean LeeIn April 2021, I reflected on the upheaval the coronavirus pandemic caused in our daily lives and on our campus. We learned and adapted and as vaccines became available, our faculty, staff, and students safely returned to campus this fall. We saw an increase in the number of students enrolled, as well as those who chose to come back to campus and continue their education – despite the national trend of lower enrollments at other universities. I look forward to our next chapter with a healthy and vaccinated community able to have in-person classes without masks or other types of PPE. All it takes is dedication to our Volunteer community.

In other good news, we have a new strategic vision for the university. The process began in December 2019, but was paused until late spring of 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. In October, the UT Board of Trustees approved the strategic vision and what we see as our role moving forward as the flagship land-grant university of the state.

Now, the college is similarly updating our vision and strategic plan for a new generation of students and faculty. As we move into that process, I have an opportunity to reflect on my leadership as dean and how the vision for the College of Arts and Sciences reflects that of the larger campus.

Our college vision is to provide Volunteer scholars and faculty with the tools to pursue knowledge to create the better world that both students and our junior faculty are focused on creating by solving the world’s many problems. Recruiting and retaining a diverse group of scholars and engaging our students as productive members of our academic community is one of our  primary education goals. Through this community approach, we help our students develop skills and experiences that build a foundation for an engaged life. Our engagement, however, cannot stop when our students cross the stage at graduation.

A key component to our success is being able to provide an education based on a modern understanding that the liberal arts remain relevant in the 21st century. To this end, engaging with alumni is crucial. Our alumni live and work all across the globe and can provide internships or other educational opportunities for our students when needed. Their lived experiences are real-world examples of the breadth and depth of skills and opportunities at the heart of a liberal arts education.

The interdisciplinary nature of our college is a cornerstone of this university. Students are encouraged to explore and develop their critical thinking, writing, and communication skills, as well as their ability to adapt in a variety of courses. Many students will decide on a traditional major, but round it out with a minor(s) or certificate(s), making each educational experience unique to the student. As I think about the precipice upon which the nation and the world teeters, this variety of skills are critical for them to meet their aspirations of making a difference in the world.

I want us also to provide hope – hope that we can make a difference as Volunteers and hope that our students will help lead us all to a more certain, safe, and free world. The education we provide in the College of Arts and Sciences is foundational for that hope as our faculty provide the tools students need to understand the past and to then develop a sustainable and fairly shared world where each individual is appreciated for who they are and what they bring to the community effort. We have a significant role to play in educating and engaging these leaders of tomorrow.

Despite the ups and downs of 2021, we are ending on some good news. I’m excited to announce that we are adding a department! Our Africana Studies interdisciplinary program, which began after the 1968-69 academic year when  students demanded an expanded educational curricula, will become the UT Department of Africana Studies in the spring of 2022. We are very excited about the fruition of the demands of students from 50+ years ago. Be on the lookout for events and celebrations in 2022.

Thank you for your continued support of UT, the College of Arts and Sciences, and our students, faculty, and staff. I hope you and your family and loved ones have a safe and healthy holiday season.


Theresa M. Lee
Dean, College of Arts and Sciences