Changes in Campus and University Leadership
HG: The UT system has an interim president; UT Knoxville has an interim provost; and the governance structure of higher education in Tennessee is under review. Has your concept of your role as dean changed in response to decreased predictability?
BB: Well, there have certainly been changes since I arrived in fall 2005. It is a time of dynamic change at in top administration. But on February 1 our new chancellor, Jimmy G. Cheek, arrived on campus, so that position is now filled with a permanent appointment.
Chancellor Cheek came to us from the University of Florida, our rival in athletics but also an institution we admire for its academic strength. Florida is a member of the American Association of Universities, and becoming a member of AAU is one of our aspirations.
Chancellor Cheek is going to bring a lot of new strengths to UT Knoxville. His background is in agriculture, but he wants to learn more about what we do in the College of Arts and Sciences, and I’ve been absolutely delighted with the conversations we have had. He is enthusiastic about the way we are trying to move things forward.
I was very impressed with our new chancellor even before he took the job. He was kind enough to address the college’s faculty at our winter convocation in 2008, where he set a positive tone for our interaction, so we are very pleased to be working with him.
UT’s new interim president, Jan Simek, is a longtime friend of the college, and for very good reasons. He began his career as a professor in the Department of Anthropology and later became its head before going on to accept positions in campus, and now system, administration. Similarly, Susan Martin, UT Knoxville’s interim provost, is a professor in the Department of Classics, where she served as head and then as an associate dean of the college before moving into campus administration. It is advantageous to us for me to report directly to someone with such thorough understanding of college and the challenges we now face.
There is, of course, an ongoing statewide discussion about flattening the higher education governance structure in Tennessee. Both the house and senate have proposed bills for streamlining higher education in Tennessee, and the SHAPE Act, as it is called, is working its way through the legislative process. The proposed changes are part of this landscape of uncertainty at UT and across the state. But if any of these proposals were to result in administrative cost savings that would make more funds available for our academic programs and faculty, we would welcome them.
HG: How do you keep the college on an even keel and steady course?
BB: The College of Arts and Sciences is the largest college at UT Knoxville and the largest single college in the state. We probably also have the largest research role of any college in Tennessee, which positions us as a leader on campus and within the state. Thus, the decisions we make and the strategies we choose are all the more significant.
So what we have focused on—and what we have tried to lead the faculty and students to focus on, as well—is a continuing pursuit of excellence here. We need to be aware that whatever the members of the college, both faculty and students, do will have an impact on the success of this campus and of higher education statewide. That awareness encourages steadiness in our decision-making.