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“The Humanities building is too hot.” “There are still chalkboards on the walls.” “The technology is outdated!”

These are complaints for which, just 10 years ago, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, had no dedicated financial answer. Though there is sometimes campus funding for classroom upgrades, there were not enough funds to address instruction needs.

In the past 10 years, however, the university committed funds to address a number of classroom improvements made possible by the Facilities Fee, first initiated a decade earlier by some very forward-thinking students in response to chronic complaints about classrooms.

Since the inception of the fee in 2000, classroom upgrades have moved from blackboards to whiteboards to glass “magic” boards. For more than 10 years, all students enrolled in credit and audit courses paid it. The fee is $35 per semester for full-time, in-state students and $185 for full-time, out of state students; it is pro-rated for part-time students.

The fee was designed to provide consistent funds for classroom upgrades and renovations, bring more information technology into the classroom and fund campus infrastructure improvements. The idea was that revenue generated from the fee would be targeted to assist in funding a backlog of campus and classroom projects to enhance the university’s facilities. The fee also supports campus beautification and student environmental initiatives.

Bill Dunne, associate dean of the College of Engineering, chairs the Classroom Upgrade Subcommittee. He says forming the fund was a positive step.

“By establishing this fee and using one-third of the funds for classroom upgrades, the campus and our students took what, at the time, was a revolutionary step to create a dedicated and protected annual source of funds to update classrooms,” Dunne said.

The Classroom Upgrade Subcommittee is comprised of members of university faculty, staff and administration and has both graduate and undergraduate student representation.

Each year since the fee’s inception, approximately $3 million in revenue has been generated and divided between classroom renovations and technology upgrades, campus beautification and student environmental initiatives.

“Instructional methodologies, particularly with respect to technology, are changing through time, and classrooms need to evolve to meet those changes,” said Dunne. He and other members of the Classroom Upgrade Subcommittee seek to replace technology that is more than five years old and renovate rooms where furniture is failing and flooring, blinds, lighting and/or walls need repair. They try to do this through considering requests from colleges and departments for upgrades that will improve instruction.

As the source of the facilities fee is heavily weighted toward lower-division undergraduates, the subcommittee emphasizes the renovation of larger-capacity, general-purpose classrooms, with a secondary focus on specialized classrooms for academic program spaces. At this time, the subcommittee is planning a major renovation campaign in the Humanities and Social Sciences building for Summer 2012—after the heating, ventilating and air conditioning system is renovated—and is marshalling funds for that purpose.

“This program has made a real and material difference to the quality of student instruction at the University of Tennessee. What makes it even better is that it was first initiated by our students,” said Dunne.