My Senior Gift Pictorally: Correspondences

November 19, 2000/April 8, 2001

Dear President Gilley,

I finally have found time to respond to your e-mail from November 5, 2000.  I have some problems with some of the comments you made and some questions for you too.  However, this letter was started back in November, but to do my schedule being the way it is, I have not been able to complete the letter to [until] today, April 8, 2001.

The website [Web site] you had mentioned to me, I did not know about until you told me about it.  And you telling me that 4,000 out of (approximately) 26,000 students have visited the website is not really telling me anything, considering that is only 15% of the student population.  You are still not getting input from all of the students from the website and I guess there is the same problem as with the "Master plan" website [Web site], the comments and information will probably be edited and filtered, so you may never know how people like me feel and what we think and the problems we have had and are continuing to have on this campus.  Since you seem to have the URL address, would it be possible for you to give it to me, so I can check it out and add my comments?

I have never been able to go to any of the open forums that you have had thus far because they always happen during one of my classes.  And like you said, sometimes they have been heavily populated and at times they haven't been, but yet they always seem to happen around the same time and on the same day of the week.  If you really want a bigger and better turnout, maybe the date and time should be changed to accommodate for us students who have classes during the day and other faculty, staff, and workers who may want to attend, but can not during the day.

And concerning the last open forum you had for "Diversity Problems" here on campus, I heard that it was more of a media charade than anything else and not just that, it seemed that the front panel was not taking the issues that were brought up seriously, if they were, some of them wouldn't have been chuckling or laughing.  There is a lot of talk about diversity on this campus, but I must say that this campus is not diverse.  I am sorry but having a handful of people of color does not create diversity.  There's a lot more to it, but I am concerned with the following comment that you made, "students should become sensitive to other cultures."  I must say that's not the problem, nor will it do anything, if it does it will probably cause more problems.  In order for there to be a real acceptance of other cultures here on campus, all students should have a chance (or be made to) to at least learn about and study other cultures, from having an understanding of other groups, there will be less of a chance to misinterpret messages.  Along the lines of that, there should be talk of respecting and understanding people of different cultures, not to be sensitive or tolerate others.  Fostering an understanding and having real dialogue between and amongst the students, faculty, staff, workers, and administrators will do a lot.  Many people who attend and work here at UT have never left Knoxville and/or Tennessee, and may have probably have little to no interaction with people of different religions, backgrounds and environments, cultures, perspectives and ideals.

It's nice that you found the money for the renovation of your mansion, but I didn't ask you about that  I had asked you, "when would me and my friends be able to come over?"  I saw in the article they had on the renovations in the newspaper that students would also be able to come over.  On the topic of money, money is not the answer to solving the problems UT faces, in some cases it may help, but more than likely it will not.  That is one of the problems with the education system now, every time they have a problem they want to throw money at the problem and think that the money should solve the issue, without even determining what the problem actually is.  The use of money to solve problems is only a "band-aid", sooner or later that "band-aid" is going to fall apart and instead of healing, it will do harm.

I think that in order for more students to want to come and feel welcome at UT, then it will have to change from the inside out, you can't throw money at the faculty and students and hope that the "best" will come just for the money, once they get here it's a different story.  If you entice someone with money, what's going to happen when the money runs out?  If they are only here for the money, once that goes, there is nothing left to keep them here.

I am not sure how this "prestige" of being a top 25 research university will make us as students wiser and or add to our overall knowledge and understanding, for which colleges/universities were established.  There are many students already complaining about their professors, as many professors do not teach no more, as they are more concerned with their research than they are with teaching their students.  As this is the case, a lot of classes are instructed by GTA's/TA's who have never taught before and probably have do not have much experience or expertise in the areas of the classes that they are now responsible for teaching.  Now this causes more problems, as they have other more important tasks on their mind, graduating from graduate school by fulfilling their specific requirements mainly, and from having a lack of experience, they are less qualified to instruct or teach classes.  So when you say that you are looking forward to UT becoming a top 25 research university, I must ask you, who will that benefit????  From my experience and from just talking to many others about the system of higher education, its purpose is to instruct and teach students in their respective fields or disciplines, but trying to increase the research done at the school, does not improve our quality of education.  I have been doing a lot of thinking lately about research and I am not sure if more of it, is what's needed on college campuses, since so many results are often than not, theoretical in nature, which may give an implication of how it really is, but leads to assumptions being taken on, and you know what assuming does.

And concerning the bridge, even though I do know that building has already been started, I still would like to express with you my comments.  One thing I still don't get, is even though more than half of the student population and quite a bit of the Knoxville community was against the building of the bridge, why was the bridge still built???  I just don't get it, if you are really here for the students, then our concerns and voices should have been heard over all of the talk of the money that you were getting.  Nor do I get how it is supposed to make the campus more pedestrian friendly, for one, since in it's present state the campus is not pedestrian friendly.  I don't call having to run across the street from fear of being hit by an oncoming car a safe place!  Maybe you do, but I don't.  There are many different cross walks at which this happens to students (not just me) at least three to four times a week, maybe more.

A four-lane bridge, or whatever you have already decided on, I don't think that the bridge will make the campus more pedestrian friendly.  If the bridge is for pedestrians, then make it one lane, and similar to the bridge connecting Clement and Greve Halls, that bridge is just for pedestrians and if you are so concerned about us pedestrians, more should be done to preserve the campus we already have.  I do not believe that the bridge should be built on or near any burial ground, and definitely not the burial ground of the indigenous people of Knoxville and Tennessee.  If I am not mistaken, by taking the bus from the Ag campus to the "main" campus, the drive is only about five minutes.  To me, if you want to make the campus more pedestrian friendly, we should cut down on the amount of automobiles we already have on campus, this can be done by promoting the usage of the bus system, trolley, walking, and/or carpooling when traveling around campus.  That would be more cost-efficient for us, the students (we would save on gas and parking), and better for the environment, there would be less exhaust, due to less cars being driven and people not having to drive as much.

And another way to add to a pedestrian friendly atmosphere on campus, there should be some type of audible signal for those who are visually impaired so they will know when it is safe to cross the street.  In addition, I know that you do not have direct control over this, but since UT is mainly in one central area, then this may come true.  How about having the crossing light for walk last a little longer than it currently does?  Right now in its present state, at most streets near and on campus, the "don't walk signal" will start blinking before you get halfway across the street (and that is for me, I have long strides, for someone with shorter strides, they may not get that far across).  I know that not until about 2-3 seconds after the don't walk signal stops the traffic light will turn green, but nonetheless it would be nice to know that us pedestrians will be able to cross without worrying about not making it to the other side before the light changes.

I must ask you this too, what is/are your priority(ies) while here at UT?  You first came here and said that you were here for the students and the priority was the students, but I must say from the way it seems, that's not, unless you just meant certain students- the athletes.  I really do not agree with the segregation of the students, the athletes and non-athletes, or the construction of a facility just for athletes.  Segregation is segregation, whether based on race, gender, income, or from being a non-athlete-student or an athlete-student.

Why do certain workers here on campus, the ones that actually interact with the students on a daily basis and know the students personally make such low wages?  There is talk that in order for their wages to be increased, the tuition must be increased, but since I have been here at UT, the tuition has been increased every year.  But actually if you think about it, and this is something some companies have resorted to doing, the managers and upper management will cut back (decrease) their salaries to insure the factory workers (the most important people in the company, as without them the company would not be able to operate) are able to keep their jobs if their revenues become too low and to make sure that their workers are able to provide for their families and not live in poverty or below poverty.  I do not see any reason why anyone at this university should make over ,000, definitely not if he or she has a job in which he or she is separated from the students and have little to no interaction with us, the people for which higher education was created.  Their work is no more important than the workers who have been hired to clean up after the students messes whether in the bathrooms, classrooms, dorms, other building facilities, involved with the campus landscape, etc. or the other workers who are here to keep the campus running.  Students and workers have complained about both working overtime without pay and making very low wages, if you are really here for the students, then maybe you should consider the issues we present to you, instead of you presenting issues to us and expect us to think these are the real issues of the campus.  Thank you for your time.

Obiora Embry

Last Modified: 13 October 2006 EST