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KNOXVILLE — An outside consultant will look at and make a recommendation on the future of the University of Tennessee Space Institute near Tullahoma, Acting President Eli Fly told the Board of Trustees Friday.

The institute, a graduate education and research campus, has seen its enrollment and outside research funding drop in recent years. It currently has approximately 170 students.

“I am close to completing negotiations with an out-of-state consultant who will do an independent evaluation of the UT Space Institute in terms of its long-term prospects,” Fly said.

He said the consultant will look at the academic program, student enrollment base, the focus and future of research and the value of the institute to the state, the university, the Arnold Engineering Development Center and the community.

Gov. Don Sundquist chaired the meeting and was joined by former Gov. Ned McWherter in calling for additional funding for UT and all levels of education.

“We are going to fail as a state if we don’t fund education,” Sundquist said. “Education, K-12 and higher education, is a circle and we have to fund it.”

McWherter, a guest of UT at the meeting, encouraged the board, alumni and friends of the university to do more than write letters.

“Go face to face with legislators and tell them to fund the budget,” the former governor said.

Fly also announced that the university’s alumni is launching a new campaign to bring additional state funding to UT. Called THE Team, “Tennesseans for Higher Education,” this grassroots effort is patterned after programs like “Hoosiers for Higher Education” in Indiana. The UT National Alumni Association’s Public Affairs Committee will direct the effort.

The board approved a 25-year master plan to guide the development of the Knoxville campus. The plan projects a more pedestrian friendly campus and more green spaces along with the development of new and renovated university buildings and facilities. If fully developed, the estimated cost of projects in the plan would be approximately $1 billion.

In spite of the national economic slowdown and Tennessee’s revenue problems, Fly said there is good news on UT’s campuses.

Jack Lupton of Chattanooga recently made a $25 million gift to UT-Chattanooga, Fly said. UT’s nine Research Centers of Excellence have already generated $17 million in external funding, he said, and “we expect these positive results to continue because of our partnerships with Oak Ridge National Laboratory and St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.”