Chancellor Jimmy Cheek met with Student Government Association representatives for a luncheon Wednesday, fielding questions about a variety of topics, including UT's progress in the Top 25 initiative.
Despite UT remaining at No. 46 in the most recent rankings, Cheek said that progress is being made. He cited overall reputation and graduation rates as the factors needing the most improvement.
"It's hard to move," Cheek said. "There are some schools that stay up (in the rankings) 40 years after they're really down. It just takes a long time. It's not like an event where you can see a winner or a loser."
Cheek said that his administration has been surprised by the progress that UT's student body has made. He had originally projected for graduation rates to be at 62 or 63 percent for this year.
"When we started the initiative, we were at 60 percent," Cheek said. "This year it'll be at 66 percent. Until it gets to about 70 percent we're not going to be able to move up. That's our most limiting factor of everything. All those above us are at 68 percent, 70 percent, 72 percent."
He said that UT's incoming freshman class ranks better than several schools in the Top 25, but keeping those students is a concern.
"Retention rate has moved from 84 percent to 85 percent," Cheek said. "That's one we need to move higher. We need to get it at about 90 percent."
Cheek joked with SGA president Adam Roddy, turning to him and telling him to grab hold of any freshmen he sees and tell them to "stay here!"
"I feel extremely good about the Top 25 goal," Cheek said. "And if you look at the Top 25 goal, we announced (it) in the worst economic times since the Great Depression. Others in my position around the country said 'are you crazy, do youreally think you can make progress in this kind of economic environment?' The answer is yes."
Ryan Ray serves as the parliamentarian for the SGA senate. He posed questions to Cheek regarding the initiative.
"I would encourage anyone that has qualms about the Top 25 initiative to at least attend somewhere where (Cheek) is speaking," Ray said. "It's good to know more about where we're going as a school. I think that given the situation, Tennessee is doing their best and that the student body is in a really good place."
Ray said that the luncheon was a good indicator of the respect the administration has for UT students. Provost Susan Martin, Vice Chancellor for Student Life Timothy Rogers, Vice Chancellor for Communications Margie Nichols and Athletic Director Dave Hart were among the administration in attendance.
"I think one of the huge criticisms of SGA is that we don't meet with higher administration and that we're just kind of their puppets, who make those that get elected feel better about themselves," Ray said. "It's really frustrating because there are meetings and things like this. The administration is very open to students presenting concerns and hitting them with hard questions. Those questions weren't easy for the Chancellor but he answered them well."