Get involved with UT Advocacy
By Carey Smith
Declining state support for higher education has become a national trend, and it’s no different in Tennessee. Recent legislative concerns have included efforts to allow firearms on campus and lagging funding for UT’s non-formula units, like the Institute for Agriculture, the Institute for Public Service and the UT Health Science Center. Conditions are ripe for the creation of the University of Tennessee’s legislative advocacy program—UT Advocacy.
This is the first program of its type in Tennessee, and alumni can be a critical part of its success. We ask that you join this grassroots network—membership is free, and it only takes a few minutes to sign up online. UT Advocacy provides education to advocates on legislative issues that impact UT, encourages advocates to get connected with elected officials and provides a platform for advocates to effectively speak out in support of their university.
Although a formal advocacy program is new to UT, having informed and active advocates is not.
Debbie Ingram (Chattanooga ’84, Knoxville ’94), a past president of the UT Alumni Association, most recently helped the university on the guns-on-campus issue as a concerned alumna, parent and faculty member. She is UC Foundation Professor in physical therapy at UTC, and her daughter, Alex, attends UT Knoxville.
Last year, Ingram traveled to Nashville prepared to testify before the General Assembly against guns on campus. Interviewed by several news outlets, Ingram voiced her opposition to the measure. She also teaches her students about the importance of advocacy. Each year, her students visit the state capitol and meet with Sen. Bo Watson and Rep. Gerald McCormick.
“We must do all we can to change a generation of our University of Tennessee family,” Ingram says. “Higher education is extremely important to this state. We must graduate more people from college prepared for the workforce in order to improve our state’s economy and status. Our discussions with legislators are extremely important … . We must have a united enterprise in Nashville to support higher education.”
Jim Duke (Knoxville ’73), a past president of the UT Alumni Association, lives and works in Memphis. He has mobilized himself and others on numerous occasions to advocate for UT and now serves as chair of the Alumni Legislative Council.
“I really believe advocacy is an ongoing effort. I attempt to never pass up a chance to promote the university. We currently have great leadership at UT, which gives you great confidence when you are representing UT as an advocate,” he says.
Duke understands one of advocacy’s greatest secrets: regular communication. “I try to communicate often with my area legislators and develop a positive relationship so that they are receptive to my thoughts,” he says.
“If all who care about and believe in the mission of UT would advocate on the institution’s behalf, the results would be amazing,” Duke says. “Our success or failure has an impact on the quality of life for the citizens of Tennessee.”
To join UT Advocacy, visit advocacy.tennessee.edu/speakout. Get educated on the issues. Get to know your elected leaders. Most importantly, let them know that you expect them to support your alma mater.
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Carey Smith (Knoxville ’11, ’12) is the assistant director for advocacy in the UT Office of Government Relations and Advocacy in Nashville. She is a former student member of the UT Board of Trustees and UT Knoxville Torchbearer.