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Chancellor Donde Plowman and former governor Bill Haslam visit with Haslam Scholars after Haslam spoke about the importance of civil discourse.

Former governor Bill Haslam visited the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, October 16 to speak to students in the Haslam Scholars Program about the importance of civil discourse and his experiences leading the State of Tennessee. Approximately 40 scholars attended the event, which took place in the Student Union Auditorium and was livestreamed.

UT Chancellor Donde Plowman introduced Haslam and said the Haslam Scholars Program has “meant so much and is transformational for our university.” The theme of the discussion was public discourse and involvement in public service. “College is an incredible gift,” said Haslam. “I really hope you look for those places to have discussions and forums.”

Haslam spoke about finding common ground with others and surrounding oneself with diverse viewpoints that can open dialogue. He advised, “The ability to listen and be empathetic with someone’s argument does not mean you have to agree with that argument. Is there someplace we can get to a starting point and a discussion? That’s the best suggestion that I have.”

a masked Haslam Scholar asks a question during Bill Haslam's public discourse event
Deanna Riley, a junior majoring in neuroscience, asked a question during Haslam’s visit.

Haslam’s parents, Jim and Natalie Haslam, and his brother and sister-in-law, Jimmy and Dee Haslam, founded the Haslam Scholars Program in 2008. The mission of the program is developing transformational learning experiences that help scholars understand and build their academic and leadership potential, with the ultimate goal of cultivating Tennessee’s leaders of tomorrow. In his opening remarks discussing his family’s founding of the program, Haslam said, “We really think public education is the chance to change the trajectory of people.”

Haslam Scholar Caleb Ellis, of Sevierville, Tennessee, said the entire Haslam family has given him and his peers an opportunity of a lifetime. “Not every college student gets to hear advice from a political figure like Governor Haslam,” said Ellis. “That’s just an example of the amazing opportunity that’s been given to me.”

Afterward Haslam said of the event, “The quality of questions that people ask tells you as much about them as the answers they give to questions. This is such an impressive collection of students.”

Haslam served as governor of Tennessee from 2010 to 2018. Before his tenure as governor, he worked for the family business as president of Pilot Travel Centers for 20 years and served as mayor of Knoxville for seven years.


Lacey Wood (865-974-8386,