Administrators at UT are calling a potential research-intensive campus on the Cherokee Farm “a campus for the 21st century,” but Knoxville faculty members remain opposed to that futuristic vision.
The Cherokee Farm is being developed as a state-of-the-art, technology-oriented research site committed to affirming the university’s mission to enhance economic development in the state, according to the Cherokee Farm Web site. Although management of the site was originally designated for the Knoxville campus in the 2001 Master Plan, a committee of system administrators and Knoxville faculty has been created to oversee the development of that site.
“Any university has to look for the future, where we are going,” said David Millhorn, executive vice president and chair of the Cherokee Farm Planning Committee. “We look at Cherokee as an exceptional opportunity to develop a world-class research facility.” The site hopes to boost UT into the ranks of the nation’s leading research universities, concentrating in computational sciences and nanotechnology.
But some Knoxville faculty members have taken issue with the committee and the future of Cherokee Farm, arguing that the Master Plan granted oversight of the property to the Knoxville campus.
David Patterson, president of the Faculty Senate, said, “That is the outstanding issue is that if we have a Master Plan, and the Board of Trustees have approved the Master Plan, how is it that the administrators in the UT system can circumvent and override the Board of Trustees?”
The Faculty Senate passed a resolution Monday asking UT President John Petersen to dissolve the current Cherokee Farm Planning Committee and implement a UTK Cherokee Farm planning task force instead, citing the 2001 Master Plan.
Millhorn said the Master Plan is intended as a “starting point,” and the area under dispute was under the management of the system prior to the 2001 Master Plan. Aside from system administrators, UTK faculty are the best represented group on the planning committee.
“They have five (representatives),” Millhorn said. Way Kuo, dean of the College of Engineering; John McRae, dean of the College of Architecture and Design; Brad Fenwick, vice chancellor for research; Denise Barlow, vice chancellor for finance and adminstration; and Randy Gentry, director of the Institute for a Secure and Sustainable Environment all represent Knoxville on the 20-member committee.
“They have more than anyone else. We really welcome participation ... (but) we don’t want people to come in and be obstructionists.”
But the Faculty Senate has demanded a stronger voice in the decision-making process. Patterson said he also objects to the prospect of allowing private partnerships on the campus.
“In essence, campus land is being turned over for private utilization,” he said.
Millhorn said that by allowing a presence to private businesses and individuals, Cherokee Farm will attract more great minds to Knoxville.
“Not all smart people are at universities. There are smart people in the private sector,” Millhorn said. “We’re not there to make them more commercially viable. It’s the science that we’re interested in.”
Some of that land was designated for student recreational fields in the 2001 Master Plan. Although the system is obligated to adhere to the Master Plan until the Board of Trustees votes to amend it, Millhorn said Cherokee Farm is no longer the ideal location for student fields, and the system is aiding the campus in naming a different location.
“This is not something where we’re just going to build buildings and rent out space. That would be pretty feeble-minded,” he said.
In addition to private researchers, the Cherokee Farm will host researchers from each of UT’s five campuses.
But because of its proximity to the Knoxville campus, a majority of Cherokee’s researchers and graduate students are likely to come from UTK. Patterson said that because the system is overseeing the activities of Cherokee, researchers will have to answer to both the chancellor and the UT president.
“In most rational organizational structures, you don’t have employees that report to two different managers. Where are the researchers and graduate students that are going to research on that campus going to come from?” he said.
Millhorn said the system has no interest in managing Cherokee Farm, and instead will hold accountable the functions of the campus as a whole. “We’re not micromanaging here. It’s not going to be exclusively Knoxville. The system is not looking to go manage on a day-to-day basis. We have no interest in that.
“We’re trying to do this in as open an atmosphere as we can,” Millhorn said. “We’re not just sitting up here on the eighth floor (of Andy Holt Tower) making decisions.”
The Tennessee General Assembly appropriated $32 million in June for infrastructure of the farm. Groundbreaking on the infrastructure is slated for Spring 2008, and construction on the site’s first building may begin by Fall 2008.