Trustees focus on the future of Tech

The Tech Board of Trustees discussed the appointment of a new Chief Diversity Officer, a new proposal for the university’s budget, and diversity in engineering at their spring meeting on March 11. 

The meeting opened with statements from five engineering students to give details on a program they have created to promote diversity in engineering. 

The National Society of Black Engineers, Society of Women Engineers, and Women in Cybersecurity have partnered at Tech to create a week-long event to promote diversity in engineering. They plan to travel to many of the surrounding area’s high schools and middle schools to teach students what engineering is, to promote Tech, and it’s engineering programs and to promote minorities and diversity in the workplace.

Trustee Trudy Harper announced that Dr. Rob Owens will be taking the position of Chief Diversity Officer for Tech.

“It’s not work if you love doing it. I love doing it, so it’s not work,” Owens said just after Harper made the announcement.

President Phil Oldham took to the podium next to give the “president’s report,” an analysis of how Tech is doing that is presented at each board meeting. Oldham briefly touched on the university’s new diversity recruitment plan.

“Today you heard the outline of a major ethnic diversity recruitment plan, and you saw the appointment of Dr. Rob Owens as permanent Chief Diversity Officer. Another great step forward for this campus,” Oldham said.

Oldham began his speech by recapping the past year, including the March 3 tornado and COVID-19.

“We’re not out of the woods yet, with this pandemic, even though the case numbers are incredibly low at this time… I can honestly say that Tennessee Tech has not been beaten. We have not been defeated by this challenge,” Oldham said. 

Tech currently has 14 active COVID-19 cases on campus. 

Tech’s new Chief Diversity Officer, Rob Owens, stands in front of engineering students as he addresses the Board of Trustees on March 11, 2021. Photo by Laura Navarro.

Oldham then went on to praise Tech’s current status and growth since the Trustees last met in December. Oldham highlighted the additions made to the grounds at Tech such as, the waterfalls on Centennial Plaza and the backyard behind the RUC. He also went on to praise the newly opened lab sciences commons. 

Oldham announced that the yard in front of the Walton House is to become an event activity area. The lawn will act as a practice space for the golden eagle marching band. 

Oldham also announced roadwork on Peachtree Street, Stadium Drive, and University Drive, this summer. They plan to make internal roads on Tech’s campus more pedestrian friendly. 

“[Students] want to experience the full breadth of college life. So planning for the fall, we are planning for continued reduced capacity in the classrooms because we don’t know exactly yet what we’re going to be facing, but with additional in-person sections added to accommodate more on-ground classes… our class size will probably be a little smaller than normal, but we anticipate being back on campus in a pretty normal fashion,” Oldham said when detailing what Tech’s near future will look like. 

Oldham thanked Gov. Bill Lee for the 2022 budget for Tech. This new budget will include funding for the new engineering building, updates to the Derryberry auditorium, the Bryan Fine Arts building, a new lighting plan for the entire campus, and salary increases. 

Trustee John Stites later broke down the budget. The budget includes funding for the new engineering building, $7.8 million for deferred maintenance projects, . ( 7 million for outcomes funding, and $2.1 million for employee salary increases. 

The $2.1 million allotted for salary increases will fund a 1-7% salary increase for faculty with satisfactory evaluations.

Stites also mentioned the second round of coronavirus relief funds the university received. The funds received by the university totaled $13.5 million. $4.4 million was set aside for student grants.

Harper addressed the “Save Sherlock” campaign in her executive committee report. Harper said that they explained that the bigger picture for Tech’s future included lots of plans to add green space to the campus at a meeting with the students involved in the campaign.

“The engineering building and innovation hall will be taking up a little more than half of Sherlock park green space, but the campus master plan, as the president described, has an objective of greening the campus… We’re going to be up 13 acres of green space on campus with the master plan,” Harper said. 

The Board of Trustees is a governing body of 10 individuals, eight of which are appointed by the governor. The Faculty Senate and SGA appoint a faculty and student representative to the board as well. They meet four times a year. Their next meeting will be on June 24, 2021.