Special Message to Alumni and Friends

HG: Could you point out particular ways in which the college’s alumni and friends can help sustain the college they obviously care about and, in the process, maintain a job market in Tennessee for our young people?

Dean Bursten with studentsBB: We are blessed to have alumni and friends who are passionate about this college.

They are a timely blessing because as money from the state decreases, money from private donors becomes even more important, and our supporters respond to our needs. A large part of my job is to talk to potential donors to find the connecting point of their passion with the needs of the College of Arts and Sciences. Happily, many of those passionate potential donors—as well as the readers of this magazine!—are the most generous to us.

During challenging times the American people do the right things and remember their core values. Church attendance is up, and we anticipate that donations to universities will be up, though a lot of us have seen our personal wealth decline along with the stock market and the general economy. But even when they are less well off personally, most Americans are still ready to pitch in for the good of future generations.

Let me mention a specific initiative by the college’s Board of Visitors, a select group of alumni and friends who meet to advise my senior leadership team and me. Since Tennessee usually gets hit harder and faster by economic downturns than other states, we have been concerned that we might not be able to meet offers from competing institutions to some of our best faculty members. So I challenged our Board of Visitors to raise the funds for a new category of compensation enhancement for faculty excellence. They embraced the concept and raised the funds to establish the Arts and Sciences Excellence Professorships. These are important titles that we will use to honor some of our very best faculty members, and it will not surprise you by now that I am proud that the word excellence is in the title.

With these professorships we can offer especially outstanding faculty members a multiyear salary supplement. The strategy is summed up as “We cannot offer raises, but we can increase compensation to our best faculty members, to those excellent ones who are most at risk for poaching by other universities.” By combining a faculty member’s salary from the state with enhancement from private sources, we can retain our excellent teaching and research capability.

I am very pleased at how our board stepped up to enable these professorships and help us come through this difficult period with our faculty capabilities intact. The donors who have a passion for what we do and who give funds specifically to support our undergraduate and graduate education are one of the college’s best tactical resources for achieving our strategic goals.

For the university to really drive the economic engine of Tennessee, we must perform advanced research and, in the process, use it to train the next generation of talent. That talent, by the way, comes primarily from our college. So we are really fortunate to have so much talent and support from so many of you, our alumni and friends, and we are grateful for your efforts every day.

Regarding what we can do to maintain a strong job market for our graduates, many readers of this magazine are in the position of being innovators, of being the leaders who will establish new industries in Tennessee and beyond. As they look for new partners to advance their efforts, our goal is for them to know there will be no better place for them to look than the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. I want them to find here the best and most loyal people with great critical-thinking skills, with the ability to use the breadth and depth of an arts and sciences education to deal with the complexities of tomorrow’s world, as well as today’s.

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