MARTIN, Tenn. – After serving as an educator and administrator in higher education for the past 43 years, Dr. Phillip W. Watkins, vice chancellor for student affairs at the University of Tennessee at Martin, has decided to retire.
Watkins jokes about the man that retired after a long and glorious career. “When they asked this man how he would spend his first year of retirement he said, ‘I plan to buy a rocking chair for my front porch.’ They asked what he would do after that and he said, ‘I plan to rock.'”
Watkins’ plans are not as simple, but he said he will take charge of all his free time.
“I am looking forward to having my own schedule so I can play golf, fish and visit children scattered across the country,” Watkins said.
The newly constructed auditorium in the Boling University Center was named in Watkins’ honor Thursday night (April 27) during a special tribute program. More than 200 people, including former Student Government Association leaders, family, friends and colleagues, attended the event.
“Dr. Watkins’ career has been devoted to the growth and development of the students in higher education and specifically to the students at UT Martin,” said David Belote, director of the Office of Student Life at UT Martin. “Through his leadership, student development and student services have prospered in his tenure. He has touched the lives of so many in such a way.
“It has been the Phillip Watkins’ way,” Belote said. “It has been a way that honors and respects all people. It has been a way of patience. It has been a way of wisdom. It has been the way of character and integrity.”
Watkins has helped develop the international programs; implemented Freshman Studies and PEP (Peer Enabling Program); helped expand the Boling University Center services; created
Campus Recreation; and formed the Student Activities Council. Most recently, he served as chairman of the Advisory Committee on the Organizational Structure of Academic Units. He has also seen the establishment of the Office of Student Life.
“While that office was created by the chancellor (Dr. Philip W. Conn), I would say that seeing student life grow and to nurture that area is one of my greatest accomplishments at UT Martin,” Watkins said.
After establishing a phletora of programs on campus and overseeing student affairs for the past 27 years, Watkins said he always planned to retire when he was 65 years old in the year 2000.
“This has been my plan for a number of years,” he said. He’s joked about the stars being aligned properly, but he admits he has had his retirement date picked for a long time. “I wanted my last day to be commencement (May 13), but I have too much to do between now and then, so May 31st will be my last day.”
Watkins earned a bachelor’s degree in agriculture in 1956 from the UT Martin Branch. He served as Student Government Association president during the 1955-56 academic year. He completed his master’s in 1959 and his doctorate in 1961 at the University of Illinois. He worked at Clemson University in South Carolina from 1961 to 1964 as an assistant professor. He returned to UT Martin in 1964 as an assistant professor and at the end of his first year, he became the faculty adviser for SGA. He was promoted to assistant dean of instruction in 1968 and from 1969 1972 he was the acting dean of liberal arts and the assistant to the vice chancellor for academic affairs.
In 1972, he became the associate vice chancellor for academic affairs and an associate professor of biology. In 1973, he was named UT Martin’s first vice chancellor for student affairs.
“Perhaps your greatest legacy relates to the tremendous influence you have had on thousands of UT Martin students over a period of four decades,” Conn said. “Your cheerful spirit,
caring guidance and attentive support have been major ingredients in the development of a multitude of well-rounded and accomplished UT Martin graduates.”
As vice chancellor for student affairs, Watkins said the students he gets to know best are student government members, resident assistants (RAs), PEP leaders, student newspaper (The Pacer) staff members, yearbook staff members and a majority of the pre-health science majors.
“Dr. Watkins has always been the kind of person who has made time for all students. He especially made time for me when I was working for The Pacer,” said former Pacer executive editor J.K. Devine. “He went above and beyond the call of duty as an administrator. That makes him a valuable asset to UT Martin and it saddens me to see him go.”
EDITOR’S NOTE – Jamie Page, co-executive editor of The Pacer, contributed to this article.