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KNOXVILLE — Students are the “primary constituents” of the University of Tennessee, UT President John Shumaker told the university’s Board of Trustees Thursday, June 27.

In his first official meeting with the board, Shumaker borrowed quotes from Charles Dabney, UT’s 11th president, and told trustees that the university’s best resources are its students.

“Students are our primary constituents, and they should be treated like they are the largest donors to the University of Tennessee in the years ahead,” Shumaker said. “Faculty and staff are our all important interface with these students and we must remember that these three groups are the very core of this great university.”

Shumaker met with student leaders Monday, his first full day at the Knoxville campus. On Wednesday, UT announced cancellation of first summer term classes because of state budget uncertainty.

“We really appreciate Dr. Shumaker’s initiative in meeting with us to let us voice our concerns,” student government President Elizabeth Clement told the board. “We have to keep the needs and well-being of students a priority. The state’s budget crisis should not be allowed to interfere with the mission of the university.”

Other board action included tenure approval for 69 faculty across the UT system. Trustees also approved a continuation budget for UT at current levels and took no action on tuition and fees until they know UT’s state appropriation.

UT Faculty Senate President Katherine Greenberg also spoke at the meeting, telling trustees that faculty are leaving UT because of lack of state support.

Shumaker said he hopes to boost faculty retention and keep UT from becoming a “feeder system” for other universities.

“Tennessee has become prime recruiting ground for other major state universities seeking to attract the best and brightest faculty,” Shumaker said.

“We’ve got to stop that hemorrhage. We simply can’t let more and more of these good people and viable resources be lured away while we’re in what we hope is a temporary budget slump.”

Shumaker and UT chancellors and vice presidents also told the board of drastic cuts UT faces if state legislators fail to pass a state budget by July 1.

Students and faculty would remain a priority regardless of the budget scenario, he said.

“My vision for the University of Tennessee is to give people of this state the very best university it can afford while encouraging the people to afford the very best,” Shumaker said. “This is a positive message but also realistic. We cannot afford to continue to do all the things we have been doing with the level of funding that we have.

“We must clearly realign our priorities with our available funding and focus entirely on our students. They are at the center of what we do and what we say.”

Despite the challenges, Shumaker said he has great optimism and hope for the future of the university.

“UT has such has such great people and does so many things well,” Shumaker said. “It is part of the fabric of our state, working with businesses, local government and the agricultural community. We provide important cultural resources and have a profound economic impact on this state.

“My philosophy is that higher education should not be regarded as a cost center but as an investment that pays off many times over through the course of the years.”