Confirmed victory

Preserving the Official Name of UTSI (The University of Tennessee Space Institute) est. 1964

This petition made change with 103 supporters!


Today, March 15th, 2013, we would like to thank everyone wholeheartedly who signed in support of our cause and those who wanted to sign, but couldn’t. We were informed that earlier this week, the chancellor of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, Dr. Jimmy Cheek, met with our Director, Dr. Robert Moore and a decision was reached IN FAVOR of keeping “UTSI” as the name of our Institute, and for which we are all grateful! The following statement was released to faculty, staff and members of SGA from Dr. Robert Moore:

"Yesterday Chancellor Cheek and I discussed concerns relating to the issue of a possible name change for the Institute. The intent had been to determine if 'UTSI' was the name best suited for the Institute as it moves forward. There were no political or other agendas. We agreed not to pursue the issue. Thank you to those who provided thoughtful and often humorous suggestions."

We hope that all of our questions will also be answered in the near future, as they reflect serious concerns seeking a thoughtful resolution. Last, but not least, we are very happy to attest that our community pulled together in a such spectacular manner (100+ signatures in one week) with many wonderful comments, which provided a great insight to all and has proved that “UTSI” attained a historical dimension in making its original name inseparable from its future far into “SPACE”! Once again, we are indebted to all of you who participated supporting our cause; you have all made a HUGE difference!


On January 23rd, 2013, the University of Tennessee Space Institute’s faculty, staff, and several students met for an all hands meeting to discuss pertinent updates related to the Institute.  The University of Tennessee, Knoxville introduced the directive of changing the name of the Space Institute by mid-semester, March 2013, and noted that it was imperative for everyone to contribute toward the effort of submitting a name to the Office of the Director at UTSI.  On February 5th, 2013, the UTSI administration indicated that a proposed name, up to five names per person, be submitted by faculty, staff, and students no later than February 19th, 2013.  Moreover, as an incentive, a $100 award was mentioned to be distributed for the best choice of name. Nevertheless, students, staff, faculty, alumni, the surrounding community and elsewhere strongly believe that changing the name of the Institute prior to the celebration of the 50th anniversary in 2014 will fundamentally damage the image and reputation of the Institute and the lifelong investment of many prolific members of the University community who have sacrificed and structured their lives around the Space Institute. UTSI’s name must remain unchanged in the face of adversity and continue to be nationally and internationally acclaimed according to its mission statement; so is the purpose of this petition.

The History and Reputation of UTSI Upheld by its Name

The University of Tennessee Space Institute is a graduate education and research institution located in Middle Tennessee, adjacent to the U.S. Air Force Arnold Engineering Development Center that was established in 1964 after considerable efforts implemented by the vision of Dr. B.H. Goethert and several key individuals at the AEDC, as a main component of the University of Tennessee.  Moreover, the Space Institute has become an internationally recognized institution for graduate study and research in engineering, physics, mathematics, and aviation systems and has made remarkable contributions at the local, state, national, and international levels. 

According to Dr. B.H. Goethert, the founder and first director of UTSI, the graduate institute in Tullahoma, TN would have “the tremendous advantage” in the cooperation with the AEDC as

“its professors could serve as consultants with the AEDC and thus keep abreast of the latest developments in aerospace and associated fields.  Likewise, the students would enjoy the same advantages by assisting their professors in their consultant work or by working directly as technical assistants to the AEDC staff.  In this manner, the test facilities and laboratories of the AEDC, the largest and highest-performance complex of this type in the world, would become accessible to the new institute.  This is an advantage which cannot readily be matched by any other education institution.”

The original vision for a UTSI mission statement by Dr. B.H. Goethert and Dr. Robert Young from 1955 was:

“A future institute would permit advanced study and conduct of research in the fields of engineering and science that directly or indirectly support the advancement in aeronautics, and to provide the necessary interconnection between these fields.  It would engage the human and institutional resources of the entire free world and would foster close ties with the AEDC and Southern educational institutions.  Under this proposal, the field of aerodynamics, flight propulsion, and aeronautical structures would comprise the principal activities of the institute, but also included would be such associated pure sciences as mathematics, physics and chemistry and such applied sciences as electronics and materials.”

In compliance with its mission, Goethert saw that such an institute would greatly benefit the Air Force, UT, the state of Tennessee, and neighboring counties in Middle Tennessee.[1] Furthermore, from UTSI’s mission statement, it should be carefully acknowledged that “the leadership at AEDC believes that education support of UTSI is critical to AEDC in fulfilling its national mission for the Department of Defense (DOD), NASA, and the aerospace industry.”[2] Consequently, in conjunction with its mission, UTSI has created advanced opportunities for thousands of students, several of which have achieved national fame as astronauts (twelve), company presidents, chief scientists, engineering managers, and renowned scholars and scientists.  Additionally, for many years, UTSI has held a strong tie with the Canadian Air Force in receiving their military officers to obtain graduate degrees in Aviation Systems and Aerospace Engineering, which advances their careers and exemplifies their capabilities in the field.  Moreover, a plethora of UTSI’s alumni occupy high-level positions in industry, government, and universities in the United States at international institutions and organizations.  

Previous name changes have been proposed several decades prior to the most recently proposed name change decision that has arisen within the last month.  In accordance with the primary purpose of UTSI, it should be noted that UTSI’s name was established, according to Air Force historians, when Dr. Goethert began discussions of a state sponsored aerospace institute with UT officials, in which a proposal for a Tennessee Space Institute was created on November 21, 1961, that would combine features of the previously planned von Karman Institute with the graduate program at AEDC.[1]   The sister school in Belgium, the von Karman Institute of Fluid Dynamics, is a model that exemplifies the structure of an institute’s research, academic, and community objectives, and is one in which UTSI strives to follow.  

In regards to the mission statement of the Space Institute, it is essential that UTSI’s name not be altered in the presence of economic or financial difficulties facing the institute, regardless of political aspirations or internal restructuring.   It is important to recall – according to Weldon Payne, the former Public Relations Official of UTSI, and UTSI historian – “objections to the idea of establishing a graduate center or institute in Middle Tennessee, far from the main UT campus in Knoxville, were strong.  Key players, all friends of UT, later agreed that not everyone ‘on the hill’ looked favorably upon efforts to open an institute. Some said it was a battle over turf. Some called it professional jealousy.  Others believed that Goethert’s proposal represented unwanted competition.  Unquestioned is the fact that money, or the lack of it, prompted much of the opposition.”[1] 

Hence, it is essential to ascertain if the oppositions and issues that were used against the initial formation of UTSI are presently not the underlying principal motives instigating swift decisions to change UTSI’s name, and in essence, the mission of the Institute as well.  Changing or altering the word “space” not only defies the mission of the Institute, but crucially diminishes the juxtaposition of cross-disciplines that the Institute upholds in attracting the highest professionals in the field and creating world experts that will continue to create “a close interrelationship between education, research, and development work for practically all of this nation’s airplanes, missiles, and space vehicles,” while “[placing] life into the abstract teaching of science” that prevails over other schools and institutes.[1] The word ‘space’ does not simply refer to the accolades of research directly related to NASA, the space race era, and planetary exploration, but in the context of the schools’ future, it upholds the conglomeration of multidisciplinary fields that conjoin propulsion, aerospace and aeronautical technologies, fluid dynamics, heat transfer, particle and molecular physics, and engineering practices that effectively maintain and monitor future systems of research and innovation in a variety of fields.  One cannot effectively hope to change a name of an institute by the means of a financial opportunity, which can ultimately dwindle over time as man’s opportunities and aspirations change with altering political and socio-economic standards.  The name of the Institute expresses the fundamental scientific problems that the school addresses to solve according to its mission statement by creating a structure that surrounds itself on the innovative ability to embrace the latest scientific approaches that uniquely define the problems at hand and effectively collaborate with different fields in order to obtain the best strategy of obtaining the best solution available.   Moreover, the word ‘space’ is indicative to the graduate student’s ability to create a multidisciplinary degree that is not solely restrictive upon the curriculum of a College, but can allow the student to uphold the reality of crucial field problems that meet the requirements of industry, academia, and other professional agencies in science and engineering. 

A Model Exemplifying the Preservation of Identity and Mission Statement after 94 years of Existence

As a pertinent model in the United States of institute success in graduate education and research, the Iowa Institute of Hydraulic Research (IIHR) – Hydroscience & Engineering, founded in 1919, under the College of Engineering at the University of Iowa, has remained a national force and leader in fluids-related fundamental and applied research, providing interdisciplinary education for future leaders in science and engineering, and advancing knowledge in support of sustainable natural and engineered systems. The IIHR has a very similar fundamental historical structure to UTSI in its early creation, as it created partnerships that have defined the Institute (i.e. the U.S. State Department, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers).  Moreover, the IIHR was established by pioneers in the fields of environmental hydraulics and fluid mechanics, primarily Dr. Floyd Naugler and Dr. Hunter Rouse, who like Dr. Bernhard H. Goethert, tirelessly fostered international exchanges of personnel, information and goodwill in their fields, where the IIHR has particularly structured its purpose towards the disciplines of fluid dynamics and hydraulic and environmental engineering to create the best Institute to address “challenges in climate change and the failure of water supplies around the world.”[3] 

Like UTSI, the IIHR attracts many of the best students and researchers from around the globe, creating a vibrant academic community and upholds an international reputation for excellence by encouraging partnerships between departments in the College of Engineering and the College of Arts and Science, offering students with the preparation for an increasingly global research community, while upholding its primary mission directives established by its founding directors.  According to Cornelia F. Mutel, the IIHR historian, “we need a union of people, organizations, and problem-solving approaches unlike any seen before, forming of new and more comprehensive partnerships around the world that do not recognize political boundaries. With nearly 100 years of international experience in hydraulic engineering and broader environmental problems, and with the model provided by Rouse and other past leaders, IIHR is well suited to rise to the call.”[3]

Furthermore, no one department politically or predominantly controls the institute by altering its fundamental mission, vision and goal objectives, as the IIHR comprises of engineering disciplines in civil and environmental engineering, mechanical, biomedical, electrical and computer engineering, in addition to geoscience from the Colleges of Engineering and Liberal Arts & Sciences. Consequently, in order to remain true to its core, the IIHR has established a series of goals to maintain its aforementioned mission and vision statement, which are:

Goal 1 — Institutional Vitality
Foster an academic research environment for students and staff to work at the forefront of their disciplines and collaboratively on large, multidisciplinary research initiatives.
Goal 2 — Research
Enhance international recognition for excellence in research while integrating laboratory, field, and simulation-based experimentation in both fundamental and applied engineering research programs.
Goal 3 — Education
Develop and maintain educational programs built on rigorous foundational courses and enhanced with broad interdisciplinary electives and participatory research experiences.
Goal 4 — Service
Increase IIHR’s value to society through leadership in professional and governmental organizations, and outreach to communities.

It is important to mention that in order to better reflect the broad scope and modern multidisciplinary nature of the institute’s focus, in 2002 the IIHR officially appended the title Hydroscience & Engineering to the name of the institute; nevertheless, taking into account the crucial incentive of not altering the original name or acronym of the school, consequently preserving its foundational core and allowing the acronym to reflect the institute’s rich history and past century’s achievements, while remaining true to its core mission and vision.[3] 

Critical Assessment of UTSI’s Name, Mission, and Future Objectives

UTSI needs to strive and meet the aspirations and objectives like the IIHR, while fundamentally upholding its mission and purpose according to its original establishment, by continuously adapting to the future of the research at hand.  Other names such as “science” and “research” cannot define a world class institute of innovation, as they represent very generic terms that other universities and institutes have invested numerous resources to compete with specific objectives.  Moreover, like the IIHR, a partnership in academics cannot allow one department at UTSI to override the fundamental criteria of the institute and politically motivate the institute to change its name or purpose according to one particular program.  This specific move would severely cripple the institute by assuming that one particular department could sustain the institute’s needs, by presupposing that a name change is constitutive in reflecting a new mission during a nondeterministic time frame.  That is to say, a new name for the institute could just as well be later prompted by future changes in funding and political aspirations.  Additionally, recognizing that a new source of funding, contributed by a particular organization or donor, could alter the name of the institute furthermore confirms influenced motivations that overall diminishes the reputation of the Institute.  In order not to repeat mistakes from the past, it is important to resurrect a historical example from 1956:

As efforts were still being made to secure money from private foundations for the proposed UTSI campus, General Donald Putt, commanding general of the Air Research and Development Command, informed General Harris that officials of the Guggenheim Foundation had given the impression that they would be more interested if the institute were to bear the Guggenheim name; nevertheless, funding from both the Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundations fell through, when General Jimmy Doolittle, chairman of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, volunteered in the task of asking the two foundations to invest some or all of the money for the creation of the institute.[1] 

Thus, altering UTSI’s name would fundamentally jeopardize the reputation of the institute’s standing in the national and international community, belittle the numerous peer-reviewed journal article contributions by former and current professors, diminish the credibility of current and future research by the institute, inhibit future sources of funding from new partners, and further endanger the attraction, recruitment, and retainment of graduate students that allow UTSI’s reputation to thrive and allow for unique experiences that carry on to the next professional opportunity. 

According to Dr. Goethert, “the quality of [the institute’s] professors [will] make the difference between “success, mediocrity or failure”.  That is to say, UTSI’s success is not entirely reliant on the performance of the professors, but additionally determined by the strength of the leadership at UT and UTSI to effectively preserve and protect the school’s objectives while integrating outreach support from those who will allow the Space Institute to continually grow from within and establish exterior partnerships in industry and governmental organizations. 

Hence, it is imperative to address the following eminent concerns regarding the recent development:

1.       No formal committee was publicly announced in the decision process of voting for a name change, and made aware to by the UTSI community and the surrounding community of Tullahoma, TN (i.e. by means of reputable media in the AEDC’s High Mach Newspaper and the Tullahoma News).

2.       No information from the Office of the Chancellor at UTK, discussing the name change or its effects, were indicated to the UTSI community in written or in email form.

3.       No college or institute wide survey was conducted to collect feedback from various stakeholders.

Additionally, if a committee in Knoxville will meet to decide upon the fate of the Institute, it is imperative to ask:   

4.       What are the benefits of changing the name of the institute? Is the change of name contingent upon new donations or strategic moves that will fundamentally alter the campus environment?

5.       Has there been an effective cost analysis, related to the change, which has been discussed by committee, and if so, what are the origins of the funds, and by whom?

6.       Which members have been chosen to sit on a committee regarding the name change of UTSI?

7.       Why are key individuals from Tullahoma, TN not members of the voting committee?

8.       What is the position by the committee concerning the reputation of the UTSI campus and its future mission and objectives?

Finally, as an academic and professional community, we strongly believe that changing the official name of the institute, in addition to offering monetary incentives as a reward for suggesting a name change, is disrespectful to the reputation of the institute and the underlying individuals who have nontrivially expended their livelihoods in aspiring to make UTSI one of the best graduate institutes in engineering and applied sciences possible.   We hope that the University of Tennessee, Knoxville will take UTSI’s unique history, mission, and reputation into serious consideration.  In this manner, UTK will demonstrate that it greatly values Dr. B.H. Goethert’s sacrifices in creating a visionary mission, fundamentally propelling the Space Institute into the future and continuing its legacy. 

This petition is signed by the current and former faculty, students, staff, administrators, and supportive members of the Tullahoma community.



[1] Payne, Weldon. Web to the Stars: A History of the University of Tennessee Space Institute. 1992, UTSI. 

[2] The University of Tennessee Space Institute Website. 

[3] Mutel, Connie et al. IIHR- Hydroscience & Engineering: IIHR Currents. Winter 2011-2012, the University of Iowa, College of Engineering. 

Petition created by: Dimitrios A. Kakavelakis, III
Graduate Research Assistant, University of Tennessee Space Institute

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