Chancellor Jimmy Cheek:
On June 17, you notified students at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville that a proposal will be represented to the UT Board of Trustees that would increase tuition for all students by 12% for the next academic year. The decision to raise tuition was made on the premise that UT Knoxville’s quality will be maintained, academic programs will be improved, and UT will move closer to becoming one of the nation’s Top 25 public research universities.
While the reasons given appear to be in the interest of the student body, we students of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville express our concern for how our tuition money is being allocated and used. Just recently, we learned that this tuition increase will boost your salary by $27,600 in addition to an 8% raise in cost-of-living compensation, bringing your total salary and compensation to $372,600. To make matters worse, we are aware of the reckless spending the university has recently undertaken by purchasing Shelbourne Towers apartments for $8 million only to determine after the fact that it was not economically feasible to operate until a complete return on investment could be reached, thus forcing tenants to relocate and closing the complex.
These behaviors and trends are troubling, to say the least. With the current financial situation of the university, skyrocketing student debt, and the steadily decreasing benefits of having only a bachelor’s degree, we find it appalling that the funds we entrust the administration with through our tuition are not being used primarily to benefit the student body as they should be, especially with how profound the risk of lifetime debt is to become a college graduate now.
The leaking roof in the Alumni Memorial Building, which allowed water to rain down on students during class as if we were outside; the calamitous construction activities scheduled during lecture and exam times to repair the roofs, which left us unable to hear our professors and engage in an appropriate learning environment; the aging, degraded buildings on the Hill; the poorly planned purchase of Shelbourne Towers; and the academic program cuts which have left many to change their entire major – are but a few testaments that the administration is less concerned about supporting students and more concerned about supporting themselves and their impulse spending.
In the words of the University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro, you are a “gracious man, a real gentleman” that “cares about his people.” We ask that you, as the Chancellor of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, show the students that you do care by declining your slated salary increase and work toward creating an administrative environment that places more value on the foundation of the university, the students.
As the hardships from a struggling economy continue and earning a degree in higher education becomes an increasingly unaffordable and risky pursuit, we hope that you and your peers will hear our voice, then make the honorable decision to allow the increases in your salary and the potential costs of poorly planned ventures to instead be reallocated to benefit struggling students whose ambitions and futures rest in your hands. We believe this decision is paramount in the university’s pursuit to reach its Top 25 goal and to continue building trust among current and prospective students. Now is a chance to show us that you truly care about supporting us and our education.