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2018 was a momentous year on Rocky Top, with a sea change in leadership, record-breaking fundraising totals and research expenditures, and ambitious construction projects rising up across campus.

Here is our annual wrap-up of the year’s biggest moments:

By the Numbers: Indicators of Success

In a study released in August, the Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research stated that UT generates $1.7 billion in annual income and supports more than 35,000 jobs in Tennessee. In our spending to educate almost 29,000 students, we directly support local businesses, create jobs, and generate millions in tax revenue—all of which are foundational to our state’s prosperity.

More than $60 million in institutional scholarships awarded this year means a college education is within the grasp of even more students. In 2017, we enrolled our largest freshman class in more than 20 years—and 2018’s was even larger, with a 6 percent increase in first-time freshmen.

Numbering more than 5,200, fall’s freshman class is teeming with impressive students who all chose UT for different reasons. Read more about 12 of our outstanding new Vols from the Class of 2022 in Torchbearer.

Our placement in the U.S. News and World Report graduate school rankings was one of the most popular stories on UT News website for 2018. Three of UT’s academic colleges are now ranked in the nation’s top 30 among public institutions: the Haslam College of Business surged seven spots to 22nd, the Tickle College of Engineering climbed four spots to 29th, and the College of Social Work is now ranked 25th.

Leadership Changes

UT System President Joe DiPietro announced his retirement, and the Board of Trustees named Randy Boyd interim president. Boyd’s priorities include finding a new chancellor for the Knoxville campus, improving graduation and retention rates, and boosting engagement across the state’s communities.

Wayne Davis, interim chancellor.

In the campus’s top post, Tickle College of Engineering Dean Wayne T. Davis delayed his retirement to serve as interim chancellor after Beverly Davenport departed in May, with Ryan Robinson, then vice chancellor for communications, leaving his position shortly after. Tisha Benton began her term as vice chancellor for communications earlier this month. Over the summer, Victor McCrary resigned as vice chancellor for research and Robert Nobles resumed the interim role. Two more new leaders were welcomed to campus: David Manderscheid began as provost in July, and Shea Kidd-Houze began as dean of students in January.

Research and Scholarship

A preliminary estimate of $228 million in research expenditures is expected to grow as more units report out, but this number already represents an increase of more than 30 percent over 2017’s total. Additionally, undergraduate participation in research is up 77 percent over 2017.

Setting a new record for UT, 19 students received Fulbright US Student Program awards for the 2018–19 academic year to study, research, and teach in cities around the world. In November, senior Grant Rigney was named a Rhodes Scholar, one of the most prestigious awards a college student can receive. He’s only the eighth student in UT history to receive this scholarship. He will begin two years of all-expenses-paid graduate study at the University of Oxford in England next fall.

Construction and Facilities

Campus construction and infrastructure improvements made major gains this year. We opened the Mossman Building, a six-floor facility designed for collaborative research, in September, and the new Student Union will open in early 2019. Six years in the making, the Student Union is the largest project in the history of the university. A news site post about what will be in the Student Union was among the top five for the year in page views. Two residence halls are under construction on west campus, and in late September we broke ground on a $129 million engineering complex.

Groundbreaking ceremony, left to right, Keith Stanfill, Masood Parang, Bill Dunne, Paul Frymier, Dick Bennett, Kevin Kit, Misty Mayes, Jimmy Cheek, Wayne Davis, John Tickle, Wes Hines, Jenny Patel, Mark Dean.

In May, a popular article in Torchbearer laid out a timeline of major milestones from the 1820s to today in the growth of campus, as well as a look at what’s coming next and what dreams our current Vols have for their home sweet home.

As part of the site preparations for the new engineering facility, Estabrook Hall was demolished, and a time capsule from 1906 was extracted. The contents of the capsule were revealed and discussed in a Facebook Live video hosted by University Archivist Alesha Shumar and Senior Lecturer in History Bob Hutton.

In October, Laurel Hall was closed to remediate mold throughout the building. September 2018 was the fourth-hottest September on record, and high temperatures and humidity levels contributed to the propagation of mold. More than 500 students were relocated to other residence halls and off-campus apartment units. The building will remain closed through the end of the academic year. An ongoing Q&A about the issue was among the top posts on the news site.

Campus Governance

At the March 23 Board of Trustees meeting, trustees approved changes to the Board Policy on Academic Freedom, Responsibility and Tenure, including periodic post-tenure review policies. The changes will require tenured faculty to have a comprehensive performance review at least every six years.

Jim and Judi Hebert

June’s Board of Trustees meeting marked a number of noteworthy milestones, including the announcement that UT would not increase tuition for the upcoming academic year—marking the first time since 1984 that tuition has held steady on the campus. The Herbert College of Agriculture was named to honor Jim and Judi Hebert, whose transformational gift to the college will establish it as one of the top institutions of its kind in the country. The meeting also marked the final actions of the attending trustees. Governor Bill Haslam’s Focusing on Campus and University Success Act restructured the board to 12 trustees down from 27.

The newly constituted Board of Trustees held its first meeting in August to select a chair and establish committee memberships. Through the fall, the Faculty Senate worked with campus administrators on recommendations for changes to the post-tenure review policy. In December, the governor announced the five members of the Knoxville campus advisory board. Faculty Senate appointed Professor Louis Gross to represent the faculty on the board, and a student representative will be named later.

Hate on Campus

We were not exempt from the hateful incidents that are happening more frequently on college campuses. In February, a white nationalist group came to campus, prompting a message from then Chancellor Beverly Davenport that “racism is not welcome on our campus” and sparking counter-events and protests. In November, the Rock was painted with hateful messages and threats to our Jewish community and the Volunteer family came together to discuss solutions and how to continue to build unity on campus.

In the year to come, we will see new changes and welcome new leaders. Students will leave our campus as Vols for Life, and many more will join us as new Vols and begin a fantastic adventure on Rocky Top. Our campus will again come together and show what it means to be a Volunteer.

Thank you for spending 2018 with us—and happy new year, Vols!