Amid post-Spring Break chaos, the Chancellor's Honors Program quietly continued its brown bag lecture series Tuesday in the Howard H. Baker Center for Public Policy with guest Dave Hart, vice chancellor and director of athletics.
Each month, a new speaker sets aside an hour to sit down with students and share an informal lunch and conversation. Sheridan Brewer, junior in microbiology and the student responsible for organizing the event, outlined his reason for inviting Hart, in particular, to participate.
"We have these luncheons to get honors students to interact with successful people in our community," Brewer said, "and we thought this would attract some honors students who aren't normally involved in other events."
Hart took questions from attendees and led a round-table discussion over sandwiches, chatting openly about the turmoil surrounding the football program. As Hart sees it, the solution lies not in change but in consistency.
"When you look at championship programs, what you see is stability," Hart said, "And there has been too much transition in leadership positions. But we are on our way to establishing stability."
In the hire of UT's newest coach, Hart believes he has found that stability.
"I think we got the right guy in Butch Jones," Hart said, citing his great "track record" and recruitment abilities. "This is where he wanted to be."
However, there is more to success than reliable leadership. Though Hart takes pride in certain assets, such as the football training center that he called “the finest in the country,” other issues remain to be addressed. To attract elite athletes, Hart emphasized the need for newer residence halls.
“It’s got to be a top priority,” Hart said. “It’s not just an athletics priority. It’s a campus priority.”
Seizing the opportunity to gain perspective and insight, Hart asked the attending students what improvements could be made on his part to raise attendance at football games. Suggestions included block seating, student ticket packages, better cellphone service inside Neyland Stadium, added tailgating areas with closer proximity to the stadium and more parking options. Hart agreed with many of the comments, saying that the phone reception and seating requests had already been noted for the coming year.
“This is the first place I’ve been that has not had block seating,” Hart said. “And it’s a top priority because it’s important to students.”
Above all, Hart stressed the impossibility of instant results. While he freely admitted the importance of “getting back to where we’re competing for championships,” Hart acknowledged the obstacles facing not only the football team but UT Athletics as a whole.
“Most of the sports we have are in rebuilding mode,” Hart said. “Fans don’t want to hear that, but it’s the truth.”
The brown bag luncheons are held for Honors Program students on the first Tuesday of every month and future guests will be announced in the CHP weekly update.