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Jan SimekAs I prepare to return to the classroom and leave my time as interim chancellor for the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, I would like to share my thoughts about why this is a great university and why we need your support now more than ever.

Attending a university is a choice; many parents start saving for their child’s education before that baby ever takes its first step. Why? Because they believe it’s valuable. We save money for our dreams – a new house, a new car, retirement. We save for these things because we expect them to improve our way of life. Among all of these, it’s education that will give us a better life. We expect it.

Students who enter UT expect to have a better life when they exit these doors, that’s why they save and work and study to get in the doors and to earn that degree. It’s why their parents sacrifice to get them here and keep them here. It’s why people return to college after 10, 20, 30 years of being out of school.

We offer value; it’s an expectation, and it’s a promise. And I believe, whether it’s UT Knoxville or one of our other great universities, we deliver. You will find few people who will say their life was not deeply enriched and enhanced by attending this university.

At UTK, our responsibility is to deliver on these promises at the very highest level. We now attract the best and brightest students from across the state of Tennessee. These students deserve to be taught by the best and brightest teachers and researchers.

We want our students to be taught by the people who write the books, solve life’s great problems and answer its great questions. Our professors generate knowledge – knowledge they share with their students. Our students work side-by-side with professors as they do their work; this allows them to really experience learning and its benefits. Our students are not just watching National Geographic; they are appearing on National Geographic.

The citizens of Tennessee deserve to have a comprehensive institution of learning; they deserve to have big dreams and aspire for greatness. UTK is that institution, and we want to fulfill those dreams.

We do everything we can to help our students achieve their dreams. Ninety-nine percent of our students receive the Hope scholarship, which means the cost of tuition here is $2,250 per year. Students who do not have the means to pay for college and who meet the admissions standards graduate completely debt-free; their education is paid in full through UTK scholarships.

And this year, we have a new scholarship for students whose family incomes fall in the middle. Access is a promise we intend to keep.

But we can’t fulfill these promises without your help. We are a publicly funded university, and we depend on you as taxpayers to help us. It’s not our only source of funding. We’re blessed with generous donors, and our faculty work very hard to generate dollars from grants based on their research. Students and their parents invest in us with their tuition dollars.

We understand that times are tough for all of us, but we also believe the money you and your families spend on education will provide long-term dividends. It’s not a secret that we will be coming to you for more money; we hope you will support us, and we hope you believe we’re valuable and a value. We will work diligently to meet expectations and fulfill promises for a better future.

I am excited about returning to the classroom; it’s the place where my own dreams are fulfilled, I love teaching students, and I love my research. My life has been greatly enriched and enhanced because I’ve had access to knowledge and because, in the university environment, I can share this knowledge with students.

I believe it’s critical that we support and maintain the pursuit of knowledge. Thank you for taking the time to listen to me and thank you for your support.

Jan Simek, distinguished professor of anthropology, has served as interim chancellor of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville campus. Dr. Jimmy G. Cheek begins his full-time duties a chancellor this month.