UT-Chattanooga chancellor Dr. Steven Angle gave his annual “State of the University” address on Friday afternoon, albeit in a slightly different form than most years. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the chancellor gave his announcement via a YouTube livestream. He began by addressing the difficult circumstance of the 2020 school year and how the university has adjusted to those circumstances.
Chancellor Angle said, “This is the most challenging issue facing UTC during my time as chancellor. We acted quickly, and within seven days, UTC and staff made changes to course delivery and scheduling that would have taken years under normal circumstances.
“Two guiding principles underscored our commitment to existing for students. One is protecting the health and safety of our campus community. The second is maintaining a high-quality educational experience.
“Chattanooga’s economic and social future is connected with UTC’s support of a comprehensive approach to student achievement, discovery, and innovation. In assessing 2020 and the state of the university, we are hybrid, flexible, and resilient."
In order to continue to provide classes in a safe way, the majority of course are now online, which is a huge adjustment for a university who normally had most of its classes in person. However, Dr. Angle also stressed the importance of preventing the development of a callous approach to education.
“For Fall 2020, 63 percent of our courses are offered online. Even with the increase in online teaching, we continue to connect with our students through outside-the-classroom experiential learning opportunities like internship, research, and scholarships. During this global pandemic, we’re doing the best we possibly can.”
Despite the pandemic affecting almost everything in Chattanooga, he cited some very positive statistics for the university. For example, enrollment has actually increased despite the prevalence of COVID-19.
"Our first to second year retention is 77 percent, and our four year graduation rate is 36 percent. And our six year graduation rate is 50 percent. A 13 percent increase over the last seven years. Enrollment is up 0.5 percent despite COVID-19.”
Chancellor Angle also said that expanding general education will be a priority for the university in future semesters.
"We must focus on general education. We are a teaching institution, but research, scholarship, and creative opportunities is an integral part of the UTC experience. The revised UTC general education program will inspire students to develop skills, habits of the mind, and ways of being in the world that foster the intellectual dexterity and thoughtful action needed to address challenges and opportunities in their local and global communities.
“Our GE committee is looking at general education as a program, not a menu of courses, but as an integrated and connected experience. We must spend as much time on structuring a general education curriculum as our academic majors.”
Diversifying UTC’s campus was also a topic during his address, speaking about both the student body and faculty. He alluded to several methods the university has in place to address this topic.
“We must recruit and graduate more students of color. We must also build a more diverse faculty who will connect with students. Our faculty work on an individual level to challenge and encourage our students to mature as people.
“UTC supports diversity, inclusion, and engagement in our strategic direction and in our campus actions. We are committed to investing in diversity and inclusion, both curricular and co-curricular programs, to enhance the knowledge and experiences of UTC students, staff, and the greater Chattanooga community.
“Several months ago, the executive leadership at UTC committed to a series of actions including open forums, and equity scan across our campus, and assuring our instruction and curriculum mirror our words. As we develop a new strategic plan, there will be clear, measurable, and actionable steps. We will drive significant change and hold ourselves accountable.”
The chancellor used the Walnut Street Bridge project as an example of UTC’s emphasis on diversity and equality. The Walnut Street Bridge is infamous for being the place where Ed Johnson was lynched in 1906.
“A monument is being constructed so we can never forget what happened and so we can never forget the past. The Walnut Street Bridge provides an opportunity for a teachable moment.
“Mayor Andy Berke, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Urban League created the Styles-Hutchinson Fellowship, mobilizing UTC students of color that will develop ideas that will inspire diverse talent to live and work in Chattanooga. An unimaginable horror paves the way for education and opening the door of opportunity for those who have been excluded from the Chattanooga renaissance.
"We need to be part of advocating an independent thought process to make sure multiple points of view are being heard and given equal respect.”
Chancellor Angle concluded his address by praising the construction that has persisted around campus for the last few years. He ended by insisting UTC will continue to thrive through the pandemic.
“The investments in physical structures such as Lupton Hall, the Fine Arts Center, Fletcher Hall, Holt Hall, the Gary Center, and the recently upgraded outdoor spaces, stand as symbols of our solid foundation. These projects have transformed our campus.
“We will emerge from the pandemic stronger, united in our goals and more connected to the community. We’ve faced huge challenges and come through them stronger than ever. COVID-19 has not destroyed us, it has strengthened our resolve.”