Farewell Message from Dean Lee

In 2012, I joined the Volunteer Family as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Today, I pen my final message as dean to you – our alumni and friends – who have helped make my years as dean a joyful and successful time of my life. I have learned so much about the college, our university and the land-grant mission, the Knoxville community, and our global network of Volunteers. I feel very much embedded in this exciting and evolving community.

As Volunteers, we are known for our willingness to put others first and live by the Volunteer Creed: One that bears a torch shadows oneself to give light to others. The Torchbearer, the most iconic statue on campus, bears the flame that never extinguishes and is a symbol of knowledge and enlightenment – a belief that truth and reason overcome ignorance. In the College of Arts and Sciences, we strive to spark curiosity and a passion for learning in our students. We encourage them to explore our college and find what it has to offer them across disciplines from the arts and humanities to the social and natural sciences. 

Since I arrived as dean, we have grown our undergraduate majors and minors from just under 8,000 students to more than 10,500. Our most spectacular growth is in minors, which jumped from 900 to more than 2,400; and, 40% of those students are majors in other colleges. Our growth speaks to the legacy of a liberal arts education – its sensibilities and training that all students, including those in professional colleges, enjoy and find useful. 

In this edition of Higher Ground, we celebrate the legacies of our students, alumni, and donors. We share slices of life on Rocky Top that showcase the unique opportunities students in the College of Arts and Sciences have for their academic pursuits. We celebrate the legacy of our Humanities Center, which marks its 10-year anniversary this year. And we celebrate the legacies of our faculty research and creative activities.

As my tenure as dean comes to a close, I think it is time to admit one of my first and possibly biggest mistakes I made as dean. As you may know, I spent many years as a researcher working with small mammals, including voles (Microtus pennsylvanicus), so when it came time to cheer on the V-O-L-S, I was happy to shout Go Voles Go! I definitely caused some consternation among my colleagues and friends with that error. I was quickly corrected at a football game and I never, ever made that error again. 

I want to thank you all for your support and dedication to our college and the University of Tennessee. Working in higher education is an adventure of a lifetime despite the ups and downs. One of my favorite roles as dean is standing on the walkway at graduation and shaking hands with each and every one of our students who are walking across that stage – sometimes even dancing! – to receive a degree(s) they worked hard for and to begin the next chapter of their lives. Every story, every set of experiences, and every combination of classes taken is unique to each student. Seeing the smiles on their faces and hearing the shouts of joy from their families at the end of each academic year reminds me of the important work we do at UT and in higher education across the country. We are intricately involved in shaping the future and, where I stand, the future for our Volunteers is as bright as the Pantone 151 we don each Big Orange Friday. I am proud to be a Volunteer. Thank you and, Go Voles! Er, I mean VOLS!  


Theresa M. Lee
Herbert Family Dean
College of Arts and Sciences