Faculty, Staff, and Students,
As we begin to navigate this new year and a new semester, I want to give you an update on a few things.
Spring Semester 2021 Operation Guidelines
The COVID-19 pandemic is at its peak with a record number of Americans affected. The UT Health Science Center will operate in the 2021 spring semester under the established UTHSC COVID-19 guidelines:
- Didactic portions of courses will be online.
- Labs, simulations, and secure exams will be held on campus using our COVID-19 campus policies.
- Clinical rotations remain in person using the rules and COVID-19 precautions of our partner institutions where the clinical experience is held.
- To reduce on campus density, any work that can be done at home should continue to be done at home.
We expect to complete all of our training experiences so that we can graduate our students, residents, and fellows on schedule. We will modify our COVID-19 guidelines as safety allows during the pandemic.
UTHSC COVID-19 Vaccinations
UTHSC was able to participate in the State of Tennessee’s Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine distribution through the actions and advocacy of the campus Executive Vice Chancellor, Dr. Ken Brown. We were the only university to meet the states guidelines and receive a vaccine allocation. UTHSC’s vaccine allocation was for West Tennessee and was therefore required to be given in West Tennessee. We followed the states guidelines and priorities by vaccinating patient-facing personnel and first responder employees first, including students, residents, faculty, and staff.
I want to give a special thanks to three groups for their assistance:
- Thanks to Dr. Armenthry Jones and her team at University Health Services, who did a stellar job of administration, resulting in the University not wasting a single dose of our ~3,000 doses of vaccine.
- Special thanks to our volunteer students, who actually administered most of the vaccinations.
- Thanks for our partner hospitals, who vaccinated many of our faculty health care providers and many of our residents at our regional campuses.
Tuition and Fees
Despite the substantial increased costs of operating during the pandemic, we proposed and our UTHSC Advisory Board approved a zero tuition increase for the next academic year. We understand the effect of the pandemic on the budgets of our students and their families. Two fee increases were proposed and accepted, one to operate the dental clinics, and one for new administrative costs in the College of Nursing. These proposals now advance to President Boyd and the UT Board of Trustees for ultimate approval.
We await the Governor’s budget proposal for UTHSC and higher education, which should be announced in early February. We are hopeful that several key items that were removed from last year’s budget for UTHSC due to the COVID-19 crisis will be restored. This includes:
- Operating fund increases for UTHSC to operate core campus infrastructure, several major renovation and maintenance awards.
- New Graduate Medical Education funds for additional resident positions.
Changes in compensation for faculty and staff will be determined by the UT Board of Trustees after state budget changes are confirmed. UTHSC weathered the COVID-19 pandemic of increased costs and flat revenue by belt-tightening, and reduction in non-essential, but beneficial activities. We will continue to adjust to the new financial reality by doing what is needed to continue our mission. We expect we are not through with our belt-tightening though.
Funds previously awarded by the state for construction allowed us to continue our campus master plan. These funds were awarded for a set purpose and must be used for the awarded purpose.
- We have nearly completed the renovation of the back half of the historic quadrangle and we expect to move into these newly renovated buildings during the 2021 year.
- We have begun the transformation of the College of Dentistry Building to create the Delta Dental Oral Health Complex. This will substantially improve both education and clinical space in the College of Dentistry.
- We are in the final phase of acquiring the Trimetis Vivarium to ensure we are able to meet our lab animal housing demands that are essential to our research enterprise.
- Several previously funded renovations are also underway on campus.
Multiple negotiations are underway with our clinical partners and we will report on these as they are completed.
Research Strategic Plans
We are pleased that our research endeavors continue to grow despite the pandemic. Major planning is underway concerning the scheduled revamp of our strategic research plan. This planning process in underway not only for UTHSC as a whole, but also for our Graduate School of Medicine campus in Knoxville. The Regional Biocontainment Laboratory remains fully deployed in the research fight against COVID-19.
There are multiple new endeavors that we will report on separately in the future:
- Developing new degree programs
- Expanding degree programs throughout the state
- Creating new dental teaching clinics at several locations
We expect to see ongoing growth in our education, research, and clinical missions.
I remain impressed by the actions of our faculty, staff, and students to adapt and prosper throughout this challenging COVID-19 pandemic. My thanks to everyone for their actions to keep UTHSC on track.
Steve J. Schwab, MD