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UT Board of Trustees Named Recipient of 2021 John W. Nason Award for Board Leadership by Association of Governing Boards


In less than three years since the Tennessee General Assembly passed the University of Tennessee Focusing on Campus and University Success (FOCUS) Act, the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees has been selected to receive the 2021 John W. Nason Award for Board Leadership by the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB), the premier organization representing higher education governing boards.

The University of Tennessee FOCUS Act created a smaller, more nimble board of 12 empowered to focus on the specific needs of the multiple campuses within the UT System.  Since 2018, the UT trustees, who were all new to the Board, have taken a series of deliberate steps to build the Board from the ground up employing best practices in governance. Early in their service, the Board members conducted informal listening tours to gather feedback from students, faculty, staff, alumni, legislators, former trustees and members of the public. From those conversations, the trustees established greater access, improved transparency and continuing engagement as the cornerstones of their work.

The UT trustees have filled key leadership positions, including the appointment of a new UT president and new chancellor of UT Knoxville. In early 2020, when the trustees were considering naming then-Interim President Randy Boyd as president, they incorporated the cornerstones into their decision-making process. They conducted a comprehensive first-year performance evaluation of Boyd, which included constituency feedback, that was shared publicly. The Board then hosted town halls meetings across the state at UT Knoxville, UT Chattanooga, UT Martin, UT Health Science Center and UT Institute for Public Service to engage the university community in a non-traditional appointment process. It resulted in a smooth and successful presidential transition.

“We are honored to be recognized by the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges,” UT Board Chair John Compton said. “Our trustees have worked collaboratively and diligently to learn more about the UT System, to understand our roles and responsibilities as board members of a public, land-grant institution, and to ask the difficult questions needed to ensure that the university fulfills its mission and helps the state of Tennessee prosper.”

Even in the midst of a pandemic, the University of Tennessee has thrived. Records set for the 2020-21 school year include:

  • Overall enrollment across the system increased 1.9 percent to an all-time high of 52,559 students.
  • More than 41,100 students enrolled as undergraduates.
  • More than 8,800 first-year students enrolled.
  • More than 11,300 students enrolled in graduate and professional schools.

Additionally, UT conferred more than 8,600 degrees in 2020—another record. UT’s endowment stands at more than $1 billion. System-wide research expenditures grew to $431 million—another all-time high.

In 2020, the Oak Ridge Institute at the University of Tennessee received a $20 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. The grant expands the university’s partnership with Oak Ridge National Laboratory to train the next generation of American scientists and engineers.

UT recently welcomed its first class of recipients of the UT Promise, which is a last-dollar scholarship program that guarantees free tuition and mandatory fees for qualified undergraduate students with a family income of under $50,000.

While Compton attributed these successes to an outstanding leadership team led by President Boyd, the Chancellors and System leadership, he also acknowledged they were just getting started.

“We are not finished.  We recognize the significant challenges facing institutions of higher education and are committed to continuous improvement,” he said.

The University of Tennessee Board of Trustees is one of six institutions receiving this year’s Nason Award. Other recipients include the American University of Beirut Board of Trustees, the Colorado State University Foundation Board of Directors, the Diné College Board of Regents, the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady University Board of Trustees and the University of Vermont Foundation Board of Directors.

“The coronavirus is but one of many challenges that higher education is facing. We hope that recognizing boards that are strategic partners of their institutions will give others the courage to lead their institutions or foundations in a similar fashion,” said Henry Stoever, AGB president and CEO. “I am excited to share the great work and success that these honorees have achieved at our upcoming meetings.”

The University of Tennessee Board of Trustees will receive its award at an upcoming board meeting and will be honored throughout the year at AGB events and programs.

The Nason Award, established in 1992, is presented in partnership with  to higher education governing boards that demonstrate exceptional leadership and initiative. This year’s honorees were chosen from among more than 35 nominations illustrating the crucial work of boards from both public and private institutions, statewide systems and institutionally related foundations.

The Nason award is named for higher education leader John W. Nason, who served as the chair of the National Japanese American Student Relocation Council and helped more than 4,000 interned students continue their college studies across the nation during World War II. Learn more about AGB’s Nason Award at www.AGB.org/Award.

About the University of Tennessee System
The University of Tennessee is a statewide system of higher education with campuses in Knoxville, Chattanooga, Martin and Memphis; the UT Space Institute in Tullahoma; the UT Institute of Agriculture with a presence in every Tennessee county; and the statewide Institute for Public Service. The UT system manages Oak Ridge National Laboratory through its UT-Battelle partnership; enrolls about 50,000 students statewide; produces about 10,000 new graduates every year; and represents more than 400,000 alumni around the world.

The UT Board of Trustees is comprised of 12 members, including 10 trustees appointed by the governor of the state of Tennessee and confirmed by the legislature, the Tennessee Commissioner of Agriculture (ex officio) and a UT student. It is a highly diverse group of individuals in terms of sex, race, perspective, experience, geographic location and alumni affiliation. 

About AGB
The Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB) is the premier membership organization that strengthens higher education governing boards and the strategic roles they serve within their organizations. Through our vast library of resources, educational events, and consulting services, and with nearly 100 years of experience, we empower 40,000 AGB members from more than 2,000 institutions and foundations to navigate complex issues, implement leading practices, streamline operations, and govern with confidence.  AGB is the trusted resource for board members, chief executives, and key administrators on higher education governance and leadership.

Melissa Tindell, 865-974-0741, mtindell@tennessee.edu
Jennifer Sicking, 865-974-5179, jsicking@tennessee.edu