Source: Knoxville News Sentinel | Megan Boehnke | September 19, 2016
University of Tennessee Chancellor Jimmy Cheek said Monday that he will ask the Legislature to fund a new engineering building, at least three new Governor’s Chair faculty members and a new data science doctoral program that will be housed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Cheek told faculty Monday that he is hopeful that the funding priorities will be well-received by Gov. Bill Haslam and the General Assembly despite a rocky session earlier this year in which lawmakers defunded UT’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion.
“I don’t think we can project what the Legislature is going to consider next year, but we have certainly done everything they’ve asked us to do and required us to do,” Cheek said following his final “State of the University” report to the Faculty Senate. “We’re looking forward to having a good conversation with them about the positive things that are happening on our campus.”
The top priority, he said, is a $129 million, 228,000-square-foot engineering building that will house the nuclear engineering department, student academic services and student and research labs.
UT has received $10 million in donations from Min Kao and John Tickle, each of whom already have an engineering building named in their honor on campus. UT is asking the state to pay $90.2 million. The university is moving forward on design for the building this fall, officials said.
For the doctoral program, Cheek said the university is seeking $6 million in one-time funding to launch the program. The data sciences and engineering program will be similar to the existing Bredesen Center, which started five years ago and currently has 142 students studying energy sciences and engineering at ORNL.
“It will be a cross of a multitude of disciplines and also involve the health sciences center, and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga,” Cheek said.
Also in a partnership with ORNL, Cheek hopes to add somewhere between three and six Governor’s Chair faculty members. The program started under then-Gov. Phil Bredesen, who gave UT funding to attract high-level, problem-solving faculty at the forefront of new research. That funding has run out, Cheek said. The new positions would include emerging areas like 3-D printing and data science.
“This data science, big data, data analytics, cyber security is something we think is very important, particularly as Oak Ridge deploys the fastest computer in the world,” Cheek said.
UT currently has 14 chairs at the Knoxville campus and two at the Health Sciences Center in Memphis.
When asked by one faculty member if the Legislature would be receptive to the requests given last year’s battles, Cheek pointed to the better-than-expected state revenues.
“The resources are coming in at a greater extent than they anticipated, so there’s quite a bit of money that’s nonrecurring,” he said. “I think the governor is always concerned about recurring money, and our top two requests are for nonrecurring money: for a building and also for the Ph.D. program.”
Lawmakers moved the budget for UT’s Office for Diversity to minority engineering scholarships for one year after controversies arose about the office suggesting gender neutral pronouns and inclusive holiday parties. The school in May announced it had disbanded the office, including eliminating four staff positions and a $131,365 operating budget.
The school is set to take control of those funds again next year, but Cheek said Monday the university has not yet decided how to use the money.
Also on Monday, the Faculty Senate passed a resolution honoring Donna Braquet, a libraries faculty member who was director of UT’s Pride Center, for her fight for inclusion on campus. She received a standing ovation from her peers, and from Cheek.