University of Tennessee, donors discuss renaming agriculture college

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New UT Institute of Agriculture Chancellor Tim Cross gives his thoughts on becoming chancellor.
Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel

The University of Tennessee’s college of agriculture could be getting a new name — and a donation on a “transformational” level along with it.

The Executive and Compensation Committee for the Board of Trustees met Tuesday morning with a single item on the agenda: the potential renaming of the college. The committee voted unanimously to proceed with talks.

“This would be such a transformational gift,” UT President Joe DiPietro said. “Something like this doesn’t happen very often.” 

A tradition of giving

Officials didn’t specify the amount of the potential gift and aren’t required to by state law. The prospective donors — Jim Herbert, a 1962 UT graduate and founder and CEO of the Neogen Corp., which makes and markets food safety products, and wife Judi, a 1963 UT graduate — have made various donations to UT over the decades and received the university’s Philanthropists of the Year award in 2017. They didn’t attend Tuesday’s meeting.

UT policy restricts the naming of colleges, schools, departments and programs after donors to those who give “a significant endowment that will provide a permanent income stream … between 10 and 40 percent of the operating budget at the current spending level.”

The College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources operates on an annual budget of $7.1 million, said Tim Cross, chancellor of the UT Institute of Agriculture. Enrollment stands at 1,477 undergraduate students, plus 170 master’s degree candidates and 85 doctoral students. Eight departments offer courses in such disciplines as forestry, animal science, and food sciences.

“We’re great champions of experiential learning,” said Caula Beyl, dean of the college. “Right now the jobs are really out there for our students. We’ve got almost a 100 percent placement rate. This will be an opportunity to provide first-class faculty, more scholarships and outstanding research in those fields.”

Starting the process

The committee’s vote marks the first step toward any action by the trustees. Cross said he hopes the process can be complete in time for the full board to vote on the renaming at its annual meeting in June.

If approved by the board, the college would be the third such UT institution to be renamed in recent years.

The renaming of what’s now the Haslam College of Business in 2014 came after a $50 million donation from the family of Jim Haslam, founder of Pilot Flying J and father of Gov. Bill Haslam. Trustees voted in 2016 to rename what’s now the Tickle College of Engineering in honor of John Tickle, a 1965 UT graduate and chairman of Strongwell Corp., a fiberglass manufacturer.

Tickle made his donation on the condition the amount be kept secret.

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Originally published Oct. 2014: James Haslam discusses the donation and how it will benefit the University of Tennessee.

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