In its last meeting of the year, the UTHSC Advisory Board welcomed a new student member, approved a second term for its chairman, and discussed ways it can assist the university in advancing its goals for diversity of its students, faculty, and staff.
Philip Wenk, DDS, who has served as chairman of the board since it began in late 2018, was elected by a unanimous roll call vote for a second two-year term as chair during the meeting last Thursday. Dr. Wenk, who is president and CEO of Delta Dental of Tennessee and a UTHSC College of Dentistry alumnus, said he considers it “an extreme honor” to serve on the board and was thankful to be considered for a second term as chair.
Sonali Demla, a third-year dental student, is the new student representative to the board. Demla also serves as the Dental School Executive Council president, as well as the Student Government Association Executive Committee president.
Chancellor Steve J. Schwab, MD, gave the board a brief recap of the 2020 State of the University Address he presented to the campus November 2. He reiterated that the university is performing well in the “new normal” resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, meeting graduation goals and clinical obligations, retaining its core workforce, keeping the research effort on track, and undergoing a successful accreditation visit. He also said the university has achieved distinctions despite the pandemic.
Chancellor Schwab said the university has been a leader in the community in testing for COVID-19, has turned over its Regional Biocontainment Laboratory to research into therapeutics and possible vaccines for the virus, has adjusted and expanded academic offerings to meet the health care needs across the state, and is wrapping up the renovation of its Historic Quadrangle at the center of campus. Construction is also poised to start on the new building for the College of Dentistry, which will be named the Delta Dental of Tennessee Building. The building at 875 Union Avenue in Memphis, along with the grounds of the College of Dentistry, will be called the Delta Dental of Tennessee Oral Health Complex in honor of Delta Dental of Tennessee, the largest donor to the UTHSC College of Dentistry. The Dunn Dental Building on the grounds will retain its name and continue its major role in the College of Dentistry.
The chancellor noted that the university has had “a good, but a lean year” financially, and is adjusting priorities to meet that reality. Board members indicated they would help the university advocate for restoration of annual operational funding increases, which were removed from UTHSC and other specialized institutions several years ago under a revision of the higher education funding formula.
The board reviewed the university’s budget and had a thorough discussion with more to come at future meetings. Members were also given a preliminary review of UTHSC tuition rates compared to university peers for consideration in future financial discussions.
The chancellor spoke about the university’s focus on diversity. “We want a diverse campus that reflects Tennessee,” he said. “It needs to be for Tennessee. It needs to stay in Tennessee. And it needs to look like Tennessee.”
The chancellor cited several active initiatives and programs designed to achieve that, and more that are in development. The board expressed interest in helping the university in meeting its diversity goals. A future meeting will focus on ways to get more scholarships and design programs to reach younger students, who might not have been exposed to the possibility of a career in health care.
Dr. Wenk closed the meeting by congratulating the university for doing an excellent job in trying times. “On behalf of all of us on this advisory council, we want to thank you,” he said.