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2021 A Challenging, but Good Year, Chancellor Reports

Chancellor Schwab, who is set to retire at the end of the academic year, gave his 12th State of the University Address on Thursday.
Chancellor Schwab, who is set to retire June 30, 2022, gave his 12th State of the University Address Thursday.

In his 12th and final State of the University Address Thursday, Chancellor Steve J. Schwab, MD, said 2021 has been a challenging, but good year for the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.

Speaking from the Mooney Library in the newly renovated Historic Quadrangle at the center of the Memphis campus and via Zoom, the chancellor said the year has been marked by significant successes in enrollment (3,237 students), strong total revenue ($935 million), growing revenue from sponsored programs ($305 million), a record number of degrees awarded (1,436), and record growth in research awards ($127 million). At the same time, tuition has remained flat for the fourth year in a row.

These successes move the university toward its goal of becoming a top-quartile academic health science center across its missions of education, clinical care, and research, he said. All were achieved despite the challenge of the global pandemic.

“COVID-19, we continue to deal with today, and it has been an ongoing challenge that forced us to change the way we do business,” the chancellor said. “We have met that challenge.”

He said the campus is at full operation with an indoor mask policy and a COVID-19 rate lower than major metropolitan areas in the state, voluntary student vaccinations are progressing, and the campus is operating under a new hybrid model that is successful.

“It has been a year of major distinctions, despite COVID,” he said. The chancellor cited UTHSC’s winners of the prestigious UT President’s Award, Colleen Jonsson, PhD, for research and Altha Stewart, MD, for community mental health outreach. He also applauded the College of Pharmacy for ranking 14th nationally in research funding from the National Institutes of Health, and Top 20 among Doctor of Pharmacy programs in U.S. News & World Report. The College of Nursing was recognized for ranking No. 26 nationally for its DNP programs in U.S. News & World Report.

Graduation rates of 95 percent, first-attempt board pass rates of 95 percent, and accelerated programs in the Colleges of Pharmacy, Nursing, and Medicine represent major successes. “We graduate at a very high rate, and those who graduate, certify at a high rate,” he said.

The chancellor said it has been “a spectacular year” for the university’s research enterprise. Total research awards have grown from $85 million in 2017 to $126.6 million in 2021. He said he expects the university will soon surpass its goal to reach $150 million in research awards by 2023-2024, and will be ready to set a new goal at $200 million.

“We have reached a standard of growth that rivals our goals,” he said. “On behalf of UTHSC, I want to say how proud I am of this distinction and that the faculty made this happen, despite COVID.”

The campus infrastructure has seen remarkable growth, he said, thanks to the Campus Master Plan led by Executive Vice Chancellor and Chief Operations Officer Ken Brown, JD, MPA, PhD, FACHE. In addition to the renovated Historic Quadrangle, UTHSC has added the UTHSC Vivarium, is continuing work on the new Delta Dental of Tennessee building, and is soon to start construction to complete lab space in the Nash and Nash Annex buildings on the Memphis campus. Additionally, there is newly renovated space for Audiology and Speech Pathology in the UT Conference Center in Knoxville.

The year saw a shift in affiliations with core clinical practice plans in Memphis, however, clinical revenues remained stable, reaching $307 million. The current Memphis adult clinical partners are Regional One Health, Baptist Memorial Hospital, Memphis Veterans Administration Medical Center, Methodist University Hospital, and St. Francis Medical Center, with Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital as Memphis core children’s hospital partners.

“We are now, on the adult side in Memphis, diversified clinically,” he said. “This expands our teaching abilities, and it expands our clinical activities.” However, it highlights the need for an adult academic medical center in Memphis that mirrors the academic performance of Le Bonheur and St. Jude, the chancellor said. Chancellor Schwab lauded the academic progress of the UT Medical Center in Knoxville and cited the strong clinical and education performance of UTHSC’s other core partners, the Erlanger Health System in Chattanooga and the Ascension Saint Thomas System in metro Nashville.

The chancellor said the university has done better in meeting diversity goals over the last year. “We are diverse,” he said. “We are better this year than last year, but we are not where we need to be.”

In closing, the chancellor thanked the campus community for all the work that went into achieving the year’s successes. He outlined that this year and next year are full of challenges that must be met, citing student satisfaction in the era of COVID-19, major ongoing clinical reorganizations, and hospital realignments for clinical care and graduate medical education.

“We had a good year. It was a challenging year,” he said. “Next year will be even more challenging, but we are up to it.”

The 2020-2021 State of the University Address is available on the Messages from the Chancellor web page.