KNOXVILLE — Longtime University of Tennessee administrator Sammie Lynn Puett has announced she will retire December 31, 2000.
Puett, who began her UT career 40 years ago, currently serves as chancellor of New College, an Internet-based initiative to provide courses for some 400,000 Tennesseans who have college credits but not bachelor’s degrees.
“Sammie Lynn has served UT with distinction in a number of critical roles,” UT President J. Wade Gilley said. “I appreciate the energy and enthusiasm she has brought to New College, taking it from a mere idea to a concept almost ready to be launched. In the years ahead, we will remember the important contributions that Sammie Lynn made to our efforts to increase the number of Tennesseans with college degrees.”
Puett started her UT career as a specialist with the Municipal Technical Advisory Service in 1960. She was editor of Tennessee Town and City magazine and a columnist for Nation-s Cities magazine.
She went on to become an associate professor in the School of Journalism and later was executive assistant to UT Knoxville Chancellor Jack Reese.
“The years I spent in the classroom teaching public relations and journalism are among my happiest memories of the university,” Puett said.
In 1979, Puett left the university to serve in Gov. Lamar Alexander’s cabinet. She was Commissioner of the Department of General Services and then Commissioner of the Department of Human Services.
Her experience at DHS was the greatest challenge of her career, she recalled.
“When I first arrived, morale was at an all-time low. A local TV station in Nashville was doing a series on DHS entitled ‘Department in Shambles.’ Six-thousand employees were scattered across the state in dilapidated facilities. The federal government was threatening to impose fines due to the high error rate in food stamp, AFDC and Medicaid programs.”
Four years later, Tennessee’s Department of Human Services was a model for other states.
“It was the result of very hard work by a superb team,” Puett says. “I knew that I would probably never again have an opportunity to make a difference in so many lives.”
Puett returned to UT in 1985 as associate vice president for university relations and in 1989 was named vice president for public service, continuing education, and university relations.
Under her leadership, the Institute for Public Service expanded its programs in government training, technical assistance to cities and counties statewide, and outreach to small business owners. Puett worked both to raise the profile of IPS and to link the academic and public service missions of the university.
She presided over a period of record growth and innovation in continuing education, helping to establish distance learning and teleconferencing facilities across the state. These efforts paved the way for New College, she said.
“This is a venture that has excited the public, judging from the number of queries we’ve had,” she noted. “We know there are many Tennesseans who would like to complete a college degree they began some time ago, but have been unable to complete because of family and job responsibilities. New College will open that door to them.”
Puett received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Tennessee. She served for six years on the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars and is currently a director of Home Federal Bank and a trustee of the Delta Delta Delta National Foundation. She has served as president of Asbury Centers, Holston Conference Foundation, and the Knoxville Opera Company. Her board memberships have included United Way, Leadership Knoxville, and Leadership Education. She is an accredited member and Fellow of the Public Relations Society of America.
Puett received the YWCA’s 1987 Tribute to Women award in the education category. In 1989, the Society for Professional Journalists named its annual scholarship award in her honor. UT’s Public Relations Student Society of America Chapter bears her name as does the PRSA Volunteer Chapter’s annual “PR Student of the Year” award.