Click on link for State of the University text:
Given COVID-19—the ubiquitous disrupter of 2020—assessing the state of any university in this landmark year means looking at progress toward goals through the prism of the pandemic.
What University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Chancellor Steve Angle sees at UTC is a university that is “hybrid, flexible, adaptable and resilient. We remain stronger than ever.”
In his 2020 State of the University address—virtual, thanks to COVID-19—Angle the praised campus-wide spirit of collaboration and cooperation. Especially in faculty and staff who succeeded at the formidable task of taking all course instruction online within seven days in the middle of a semester.
“UTC faculty and staff made changes to course delivery and scheduling that would have taken years to do under normal circumstances,” Angle said. “Our students were adaptable and made the best of a truly difficult situation.”
Thirteen percent of courses were online in fall 2019; 63% of courses are online this fall.
“Despite the pandemic, when you examine student success metrics, UTC is doing incredibly well,” Angle said. “Our first-to-second year retention is 77%, a one-year increase of 4%. Our four-year graduation rate is 36% and the six-year rate is 50%–a 13% increase in seven years.”
And even in spite of COVID-19, enrollment saw a 0.5% gain for fall 2020.
“COVID-19 may not be the biggest challenge our institution has ever faced, but it has been the most challenging issue facing UTC during my seven years as chancellor,” Angle said. The University’s rapid, wide-scale response inspired him to seek “to advance campus priorities with the same speed,” he added.
Among those priorities in the year ahead: enhancing the student experience and general education.
An enhanced student experience will be built on UTC’s existing Honors College model, which brings students together around cohort experiences. Angle has set an “aggressive goal” of fall 2021 for offering every incoming student such cohort experiences—living-learning communities, residential colleges and learning communities—that contribute to learning about themselves, fellow students and “a sense of place.”
Enhanced general education will mean looking at the arts, sciences, history, literature and language courses that traditionally make up much of the first two years of undergraduate study not merely as a set of courses, “but as an integrated, connected experience,” Angle said.
“We must spend as much time on structuring an engaging general education curriculum as we do on our academic majors For example, we might look at connecting fundamental parts of the human experience in a specific area like the environment to look at the (relevant) history, literature, art, science, ethics, economics, communication and more,” he said.
“General education is the foundation of a UTC degree and must be among our strongest programs.”
Angle praised the University’s success at weaving itself into the fabric of life in Chattanooga in a way that makes UTC and the city—“and our successes”—inextricably linked. He described both the role and a responsibility the University has in “the work of equity and inclusion.”
“As a public institution serving all Tennesseans, we help people find and open the door of opportunity,” Angle said. “We influence the quality of life for Tennesseans by applying social justice and racial balance. We provide equal access to and define the value of education.”
Support for diversity and inclusion today, Angle said, leads to a campus populated by a broader range of ideas and concepts, which better enables more students to see themselves as part of the university, encouraging them to help make a better world tomorrow.
But how does UTC get there?
“There must be equal opportunity and access on the front end,” he said. “We need to be part of advocating an independent thought process to assure multiple points of view are being heard and given equal respect.”
Angle also cited a commitment made earlier this year by his executive team “to a series of actions including open forums, an equity culture scan across our campus and assuring that our instruction and curriculum mirrors our words.”
As the University develops goals for a 2020-2025 strategic plan, Angle added, “There will be clear, measurable and actionable steps. We will drive significant change and hold ourselves accountable.”
While the pandemic of 2020 isn’t the first disruption in the University’s 134-year history and won’t be the last, Angle said, still, it’ll make 2020 a watershed moment in in the memory of every member of the campus community.
He’d like to see the same for those who will one day recall the University coping with massive disruption without a disruption to its core principles.
“Thirty years from now I expect students will realize that, despite massive changes, UTC values were constant: respect for others and action on equity and social justice.”