Tennessee Alumnus

Ayers, Mears, and Geier

Ayers, Mears, and Geier

Richmond Taps Ayers As President

Ed Ayers, whom you’ve met previously in ­Tennessee Alumnus, has added a new honor to his already significant accomplishments in the realm of higher education. Ayers (Knoxville ’74) is the new president of the University of Richmond in Virginia.

After 6 years as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Virginia, Ayers began the job of Richmond president last July. He is a former National Professor of the Year, a Civil War scholar, and author of several books, including The Promise of the New South, a finalist for both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for history. The University of Richmond is a nationally ranked private liberal arts university.

Ayers’s family lives in Kingsport, Tennessee, and he and his wife, Abby, also a UT graduate, visit there regularly. He says he doesn’t get back to campus as often as he would like, but he did come to UT Knoxville to speak to the history department several years ago–“a real privilege for me.”

“UT opened all kinds of doors for me, outside the classroom as well as within,” he says.

Shortly after beginning his new job, he told Tennessee Alumnus that he was relishing the presidential experience. “I love seeing how all the different pieces connect and being in a position to help them fit together a bit better. I’m still getting used to being ‘President Ayers’ and to people recognizing me in the grocery store!”

Tennessee Alumnus featured Ayers in its winter 2005 issue http://pr.tennessee.edu/alumnus/alumarticle.asp?id=555.

Mears Dies in Knoxville

Former Volunteer basketball coach Ray Mears, the father of Big Orange Country, passed away last June in Knoxville. He was 80 years old and had been in declining health.

Mears’s Volunteer basketball teams won three SEC championships during his 15-year tenure from 1963 to 1977. During his term, Mears tallied a .713 winning percentage. He was known for a slowdown style of play and for his showmanship, including his bright orange blazers and his promotion of the concept of Big Orange Country. Perhaps his best-known players were Bernard King and Ernie Grunfeld, the principals of the “Ernie and Bernie show,” who both went on to the NBA.

Mears was a native of Dover, Ohio, and played college basketball at Miami of Ohio. Before coming to UT Knoxville, he coached at Wittenberg College, where his team won the Division II national title in 1961. Mears was buried June 15 at Highland Memorial Cemetery in Knoxville.

UT Knoxville in Pictures

Seldom-seen images from UT Knoxville’s past are part of a new photographic history titled University of Tennessee. Aaron Purcell, former university archivist, is the editor, and proceeds from the book’s sale will benefit the University Archives, part of the UT Knoxville Libraries.

Using photographs from the rich holdings of the archives, the book traces the development of the university from the 1790s to the present. Included are images of buildings, students, faculty members, famous alumni, campus activities, athletic teams, student and university publications, handwritten documents, and statewide programs in action.

The book is available at the University Book and Supply Store in Knoxville and through the Arcadia Publishing website, www.arcadiapublishing.com/.

Geier Joins University

Rita Geier, whose name is synonymous with desegregation of Tennessee higher education, has joined UT Knoxville to work on intercultural and diversity efforts. She was profiled in the spring 2007 issue of Tennessee Alumnus.

The civil rights pioneer is an associate to Chancellor Loren Crabtree and a senior fellow in UT Knoxville’s Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy. Geier sued the state of Tennessee 39 years ago to desegregate its higher-education system. She was a 23-year-old faculty member at Tennessee State University in 1968 when she filed the lawsuit after UT announced plans to expand in Nashville. She feared UT Nashville would become a predominantly white 4-year school with top-notch facilities, while historically black TSU would be neglected. The legal action spanned several decades, finally resulting in a consent decree that directed millions of state dollars be spent for diversity efforts.

Geier spoke last fall at UT Knoxville’s commencement ceremony. As she and Chancellor Loren Crabtree came to know each other, he invited her to join his staff. She accepted upon her retirement from the Social Security Administration in Washington, D.C. She said she wanted to work for UT because it is a “forward thinking” institution, seriously committed to intercultural and international awareness.

Crabtree’s Ready for the World initiative has pushed intercultural and international awareness to the forefront of the campus agenda, including curriculum reform and increased emphasis on study abroad.

“UT’s goal, through Ready for the World and the diversity plan, is to prepare globally aware students who are equipped to succeed in the twenty-first century,” Geier says. “As Tennesseans, as Americans, and as citizens of the world, it is in our national self-interest to become a cohesive and inclusive society.”

The university also has established new scholarships that help attract students from low-income families and from high schools that don’t typically send many students to UT. “As Tennessee’s flagship university, UT Knoxville must strive to set the standard for access and fairness,” Crabtree says. “I think Ms. Geier’s willingness to join our team says a lot about the strength and progress of the university.”

UT Chattanooga “Lands” a Big One

Room to grow. That’s what UT Chattanooga got when the U.S. Department of Education deeded nearly 200 acres of property at Enterprise South (the former Volunteer Army Ammunitions Plant) to the university.

The most significant aspect of the gift is its size. UTC’s current downtown campus covers only a little less than 120 acres. The new property, located near Interstate 75, could almost double the size of the current campus.

University biologists have begun to explore the wildlife and plants on the site, allowing students to conduct research in the field. Much of the land is a pine plantation with some hardwoods. There is also a wetland, owned by Hamilton County Schools, that has become a hotspot for biological research. More than 100 students are expected to study and perform biological research at the site this year. The transfer was made at no expense to taxpayers.

The Retiring Life

In the fall 2007 issue, Tennessee Alumnus ­featured several alumni who’re “purposefully retired.” A couple of other UT people have reported in about their retirement pursuits.

Henry Fribourg, who fled Europe as a child to escape the Nazi regime, retired from UT in 2001 after a 45-year career as a professor of crop ecology. Throughout his life, he says, he was haunted by the vision of his grandmother’s mistreatment at the hands of the SS. She died on the way to the extermination camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

In retirement, he determined to write his autobiography, hoping the exercise would free him of the demons that had plagued him. “It worked!” he reports. “I have been so busy writing the book [titled I Gave You Life Twice] and investigating family genealogy, the visions have gradually faded from my memories, although they will never be forgotten completely.”

Dana Rogers (Knoxville ’85) “retired” from a 12-year career in investments. She majored in finance and after graduation worked at firms in New York; Los Angeles; Washington, D.C.; and Atlanta.

Now she’s located in Wilmington, North Carolina, and “lives the dream job,” working from home as a swing trader and freelance writer. She says she enjoys living near the beach and is learning to surf. She recently returned from two months in Greece. “I think it’s important to have time to live your life and travel at a fairly young age and not have to wait until you’re 65 to ‘retire,'” she says.

Retention on the Rise

More UT students are staying in school. The retention rate for first-time full-time freshmen who began classes at UT Knoxville in fall 2006 is 84 percent. That’s an improvement over the past rate of 81.7 percent and rates that hovered between 75 percent and 80 percent for the decade before 2006.

But the university is taking steps to retain an even higher percentage of its students. Some strategies that have been recommended include creating a Tennessee Teaching Learning Center to help faculty members in communicative strategies and best practices in the classroom, improving academic advising, and more fully integrating undergraduate research into the curriculum.

Provost Bob Holub has made retention one of his priorities. “Retention is one of the primary measures of institutional success,” Holub says. “The best public universities have high retention rates, and we aspire to be counted among them. High retention rates are also a sign that a campus is doing a good job educating its students.”

New retention strategies already implemented include more “welcome week” activities and a series of freshman seminars taught by senior faculty members. The Student Success Center has ramped up its activities as well. Tennessee Alumnus reported on retention at UT Knoxville in its summer 2007 issue, online at http://alumnus.tennessee.edu/view/features/stay/.