UTC to invest in artificial intelligence, prompting organizational changes

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga / University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Chancellor Steven Angle talks with student Autumn Griggs after delivering the State of the University speech Sept. 15 in the University Center. During his speech, he said the university was considering its use of artificial intelligence.
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga / University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Chancellor Steven Angle talks with student Autumn Griggs after delivering the State of the University speech Sept. 15 in the University Center. During his speech, he said the university was considering its use of artificial intelligence.


With the rise in the use of artificial intelligence, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga is taking steps to prepare students for an AI-driven world by integrating the technology across campus.

"As AI becomes much more commonplace and easier to access, there's a real opportunity to position both UTC and Chattanooga in the forefront," Vicki Farnsworth, the vice chancellor and chief information officer, said in a phone interview.

Farnsworth will oversee the university's efforts to apply generative AI in the university's instruction, business operations and research, Chancellor Steve Angle announced in a letter to staff Friday. Generative AI tools, such as ChatGPT, create new content using algorithms.

In September, UTC hosted two open forums to gather information about the existing work around AI on campus, as well as what would be needed to further integrate AI in a meaningful way. Those conversations made it clear the university needed a centralized person to provide support and communication across campus, Farnsworth said.

"We're the kind of institution where there's a lot of coordination between research and teaching and what students are doing," she said. "I think that makes us really nimble and able to really make progress in a meaningful way very, very quickly."

(READ MORE: UTC to invest in teacher education, consider use of artificial intelligence)

The integration of AI on campus will likely look different for everyone. For instance, student affairs is looking at ways to serve students more efficiently using the technology, while a computer science professor would consider how to teach students how different models work, said Victoria Bryan, the director of UTC's Walker Center for Teaching and Learning.

"Faculty are taking to this like they've taken to any other disruption in higher education," Bryan said in a phone interview. "It's going to change the way that courses are designed, the way that courses are delivered, the way that they're taught, the way that learning is assessed, but it doesn't replace the need for the jobs that we do. It just means, you know, a really agile pivot that the faculty are needing to do."

The goal is to ensure students are literate around the technological advancements, as well as to help them potentially get jobs in the field, Bryan said. At the same time, the university wants to ensure it's not another thing UTC officials are adding to faculty and students without the necessary resources, Farnsworth said. Burnout and ethics were topics that came up during the open forums.

(READ MORE: UTC, Southern launch new initiatives in response to housing crunch)

Bryan said when talking to students she tries to stress that generative AI tools are concerned with being convincing, not right, so there's no guarantee the information it outputs will be accurate. It has been interesting talking to students who have environmental concerns or ethical reasons other than academic honesty for not wanting to use the technology, she added.

"The reality is that the implications of this thing are far reaching," Bryan said. "They expand well beyond one individual classroom or one individual interaction with a student into things that affect the world in much bigger ways."

As part of the efforts, the university also announced other organizational changes Friday.

— Bryan Johnson, executive vice chancellor and chief strategy officer, will oversee the communications and marketing department, as well as the transition of the Chancellor's Office's operations. Johnson, who joined UTC in May, previously served as superintendent of Hamilton County Schools.

— Chief of Staff David Steele has left UTC, and his position will be eliminated.

— Kim White, vice chancellor of advancement, will lead UTC's economic development initiatives, and the new economic development director will report to her once the position is filled. White previously led the River City Co.

— Additional changes in the finance and administration division will be announced in the coming weeks.

Contact Shannon Coan at scoan@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6396.