Aiken’s Response to UT’s Unification Plan

County Farm Bureau Presidents:

Thanks to each of you who participated in our recent conference call with Interim UT System President Randy Boyd and UTIA Chancellor Tim Cross to discuss the unification of the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture (UTIA) and UT Knoxville (UTK). I am pleased seventy of you joined in on one of the two calls on short notice.

Some good questions and comments were made during the calls. I appreciate the thoughtful and considerate manner of your interaction. Although, very little hesitancy was expressed during the calls, several of you reached out afterwards to voice your uneasiness. The two most common concerns have been the swiftness of the action and the fear of long term weakening of UTIA.

Since Tuesday, we have been in continuous conversation with university leadership conveying your thoughts, suggestions and concerns about future implications. I am pleased the attached guiding principles document was developed specifically to address many of the concerns highlighted by grassroots supporters and alumni of the UTIA. The guidelines clearly express what is NOT changed by the proposal as well as what will be considered in discussions going forward. I urge you to review these guidelines and keep them on file as the details are developed.

A significant part of the realignment is the UTIA chancellor title change to senior vice president / senior vice chancellor for agriculture. As the attached letter communicates, the new role is actually an elevated leadership position in the university system.  In the systemwide executive team, the senior vice president will follow only the president and executive vice president.

The title change is intended to bring about significant improvement in Tennessee’s land grant institution in national research ranking. UT leadership has been aware for several years the ranking process does not consider the long-standing structural ties between UTK and UTIA. The UT system has appealed to the National Science Foundation (NSF) that the relationship between the two campuses justifies combining the research numbers. The appeals for an exception were denied because NSF contends the rankings are based upon separate campuses. NSF maintains to provide fairness in institutional rankings nationally, a separate campus with a separate chancellor requires a single rank and cannot be aggregated with another campus.

With appeal efforts unsuccessful, President Boyd chose to address the situation and make change happen to benefit the UT system. He could have chosen an easier route and allowed things to stay as is. Rankings have an impact on many fronts. Today, UTK ranks 107 and UTIA ranks 170 by NSF) 2017 rankings . Based upon research conducted at UTK and UTIA we should easily be ranked near the top 50. Other land grant universities such as Wisconsin, Cornell, Texas A&M, Ohio State, Penn State, Florida, Michigan, Illinois, Purdue, Virginia Tech, North Carolina State, are within the top 50 by NSF. I hope you agree UT is just as prominent, or should be, as these other universities. It is time for the rankings to accurately reflect the value of our research collectively. Only a handful of the other land grants rank behind UTK.

We commend President Boyd and Chancellor Cross for their willingness and desire over the past week to facilitate understanding and address concerns. The documented commitments by University leadership and the Board of Trustees are abundantly clear the title change is intended to bring a higher status to the leader of UTIA within the overall system.

We have a huge responsibility going forward to ensure the commitments are fulfilled, not only to maintain the prominence of UTIA, but to greatly improve it nationally. I encourage you to stay engaged in the next step of developing the plan details and to participate in the listening sessions. The resulting implementation plan will be submitted to the UT Board of Trustees at the November meeting.

I also urge you to listen to the discussions of the UT Board of Trustees as they approved the change.

The Education, Research, and Service Committee  (time 48:53)

Full Board of Trustees Meeting Discussion

Thank you for your interest and support of our land grant university. I truly appreciate your leadership.


Jeff Aiken
Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation

Guiding Principles for UT Knoxville and UTIA Partnership