UT Knoxville Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek announced Tuesday that he will step down as chancellor and transition to a faculty position teaching higher education leadership sometime in the next academic year.
UT President Joe DiPietro will begin the search for a new chancellor immediately with the goal of filling the job by spring semester 2017. The president sent a message to all UT faculty and staff Tuesday morning announcing the change.
“Chancellor Cheek and I have had several conversations related to this decision over the past few months and I am very appreciative of his leadership in moving our flagship campus through a seven-year period of unprecedented growth and forward momentum.”
Cheek described being chancellor as the “best job I’ve ever had” and said stepping down is a personal decision he made earlier this year. He said he set the wheels in motion after his daughter, Jennifer, engaged him in a heart-to-heart talk.
“She said, ‘Dad, you’re working too much. You need to do something different,’ and I said, ‘I’m not quite ready to retire,’ and she said, ‘You are a great teacher—you need to go back to the faculty.’”
Once a successor takes the reins, Cheek will join the faculty of the Department of Leadership Education and Policy Studies in UT’s College of Education, Health and Human Sciences.
On Tuesday morning he told members of the press that he will celebrate his seventieth birthday in September and that when he took the job in 2009, he planned to serve for three to five years.
“I need to spend more time with myself, my family, and grandchildren,” said Cheek.
Three of his four grandchildren have arrived since 2009.
Related Story: Cheek’s Legacy Includes Many Points of Pride
Cheek said he is proudest of the progress made on goals for becoming a top public research university.
“I am really proud of improving our graduation rates, building new residence halls, hiring more faculty, improving the educational experience, and recruiting more students and better students to the University of Tennessee,” he said.
UT has seen recent record years in fundraising, student recruitment, and research. It has also received national accolades for gains in graduation and retention rates and an established track record for supporting the success of Pell-eligible students.
DiPietro said UT Knoxville is a critical part of the UT System and that finding a talented administrator is a top priority.
“Chancellor Cheek and his team have done a great job of putting this campus in a great position for whoever it is that steps into his seat,” the president said.
Cheek addressed questions about whether challenges over the past year had prompted his decision.
“Every great university faces challenges from time to time,” he said. “I think we’ve had to deal with issues that have come our way as effectively and efficiently as we can and we have had to make tough decisions every day.”
Photo Album: Images from Cheek’s Time as Chancellor
Faculty Senate President Bruce MacLennan said the senate enjoys a strong relationship with Cheek.
“I believe this is due to the chancellor’s commitment to academic freedom and shared governance, the principles on which the modern university is based,” said MacLennan. “We do not always agree on issues, but I am confident the faculty’s concerns are heard and considered.
“Overall, our university is a much stronger and more effective organization than it was before Jimmy Cheek arrived,” he said.
MacLennan said anyone leading at the highest level is guaranteed to face serious issues and stormy weather.
“Chancellor Cheek has led our campus through some difficult times, especially this past year, and he has had to make decisions that are guaranteed not to please everybody. He has sailed between Scylla and Charybdis without a shipwreck,” he said. “Our challenge will be to find a new chancellor to continue our journey into the future.”
David Golden, professor of food microbiology and president of the Faculty Senate in 2013–14, said Cheek initiated great momentum for progress.
“In my nearly twenty-four years at UT, I have witnessed greater improvements in the academic success and physical plant and infrastructure since Chancellor Cheek’s appointment six years ago than in all of my previous eighteen years combined,” Golden said.
Student Government Association President Carson Hollingsworth said he’s happy that Cheek is making plans to enjoy life outside of the university more.
“He has certainly had an incredibly tough job that consists of a lot of criticism and not a lot of credit, but I’m confident that our university will become a model institution in the coming years, and that can largely be attributed to the strides he’s made in his tenure,” Hollingsworth said.