University of Tennessee at Chattanooga losing its 2 top leaders

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga losing its 2 top leaders

June 17th, 2012 by Perla Trevizo in News

Roger Brown of UTC

Roger Brown of UTC

Photo by Patrick Smith /Times Free Press.

Philip Oldham

Philip Oldham

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.


Name: Roger Brown

Position: Chancellor

Time: 6 years

Next: Retirement

Name: Phil Oldham

Position: Provost and senior vice chancellor for academic affairs

Time: 5 years

Next: President of Tennessee Technological University

Higher education nationwide has been racked with turnover at the top in the last year, and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga is no exception. Within a month, its top two leaders announced that they are leaving.

UTC Provost Phil Oldham will become president at Tennessee Tech University on July 1, and Chancellor Roger Brown, 64, will retire at the end of March.

It's rare for a university to lose multiple key leaders at the same time, experts say. And the stakes are high for UTC, which has about 1,000 employees, more than 11,000 students and an annual budget from fees and state appropriations of $124 million.

"To the best of my knowledge, this will be the first time that searches for a new chancellor and a new provost could be concurrent," UTC spokesman Chuck Cantrell said.

Yet that's in line with what experts are seeing nationwide.

There's a lot of transition taking place right now among public universities, said Dan Hurley, director of state relations and policy analysis for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

A spike in retirements in the past 12 months is related to baby boomers aging out of the career ladder, he said. The number of university presidents who are older than 61 increased from 14 percent in 1986 to 58 percent last year, according to the American Council on Education.

But it's more than that.

"I would go so far as to say it's also partially due to the stress these campus CEOs are under, given the state funding situation," Hurley said.

States nationwide, including Tennessee, continue to cut appropriations for higher education.

Overall, state higher education appropriations in Tennessee peaked at $1.3 billion in 2007-08 and fell to $1.1 billion in 2010-11. In 2012-13, state appropriations will be $1.127 billion, according to the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.

But the dual departures at UTC are also a time of opportunity, Hurley said.

"You are losing much institutional leadership and memory by having the No. 1 and No. 2 person leave but, at the same time, it doubles the opportunity to bring in extraordinary talent from outside," he said.

That's the way Joe DiPietro, president of the University of Tennessee system, sees it.

"It's an opportunity to bring new ideas, to take the best practices from other institutions, from other people's heads," DiPietro said.

The UT system is going to suspend the search for a UTC provost until a chancellor is selected, he said. If everything goes according to plan, he expects to have a chancellor-elect by the first quarter of next year.

The system will conduct a nationwide search for both positions, he said.

UTC Faculty Senate President Victoria Steinberg said she hopes current plans, including the goal of achieving a top 10 ranking in five years, don't lose momentum.

UTC aspires to be one of the top five public master's-degree universities in the South by 2021. It's currently ranked in the top 20 graduate schools by U.S. News and World Report.

Plans call for increases in honors program enrollment, faculty compensation and graduate programs.

"That is a lot of change when we are on the cusp of transformation, a process that requires strong leadership," she wrote in an email. "On the other hand, and as a tribute to their leadership, neither Dr. Oldham nor Dr. Brown would claim to have initiated these changes on their own. Since so many of us participated in the planning and implementation of our new vision, we will likely see this through with some grace."

DiPietro said the system will look for people who understand the culture of the university system and of UTC.

"A top five initiative is something we would like the next chancellor to buy into, and we think the honors college approach is another way to drive educational excellence, which is a key component of the strategic plan," he said. "We aren't looking for somebody who will turn all the knobs immediately in a different direction."

As chancellor, Brown oversees UTC's financial standing and is integral in fundraising efforts. He also is the school's key ambassador for government and community relations and the main liaison to the UT system.

Brown said that before he leaves he would like to achieve some goals, including completing the new library and developing an honors college.

Oldham has advisory or direct responsibility for almost every area of university operations. Mary Tanner, dean of the College of Health, Education and Professional studies at UTC, will serve as interim provost.