Wednesday, December 31, 2008

UT Department of Audiology & Speech Department Saved!

When the University of Tennessee announced the pending closure of the Department of Audiology & Speech this past June, I went right to work advocating for the group for several months. There were parallel efforts by many other people in the community and nationwide to help save this nationally recognized program. Much time was spent on my part for several months in 2008 getting several state politicians to weigh in, writing newspaper articles, and a huge letter/email writing campaign. I also worked with Larry Silverstein, whose father was responsible for starting the program 55 years ago. The result was a reversal of the decision by the UT Board of Trustees. One should never underestimate the power of the people, the media & the written word, and grass roots advocacy! Below is an article written by Mr. Silverstien that was in the Knoxville News Sentinel several weeks ago thanking everyone involved for helping to save the department. There are still some challenges ahead for the Department of Audiology & Speech but it is good to know that the reversal of this decision will have a huge impact for thousands of children, adults, and students forever.

Thanks expressed for helping save UT unit

By Larry Silverstein
Sunday, December 14, 2008

On behalf of the thousands of children and adults whose access to essential speech and hearing services has now been preserved, and the UT students who will become professionally trained therapists, I offer thanks to all who played an important role in making this happen.

The Friends of the University of Tennessee-Knoxville Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology are very pleased that the UT Board of Trustees has approved a proposal for a transition plan towards a July 1, 2009, administrative takeover of the department by the UT Health Science Center in Memphis.

This will keep intact the nationally recognized department and its entire clinical program, and it comes four and a half months after a hasty and ill-advised proposal by the UT administration to eliminate it.

The proposal, contemplated to help reduce the UT budget, was initiated by the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and approved by the acting chancellor, acting provost and President John Petersen. This unexpected action was taken without consultation with the department, the UT Faculty Senate or anyone in the community.

The announcement was made public on June 4, just prior to the Board of Trustees Executive Committee meeting in Nashville on June 6 and on a fast track toward approval by the full UT Board of Trustees on June 20.

Thanks to the unanimous support of the local media, word spread quickly throughout the community and a grass-roots campaign was begun to save the program. Letters, phone calls, personal appeals and e-mails by the hundreds poured in to the board of trustees, Petersen and Gov. Phil Bredesen.

A law office conference room in Nashville on June 6 was filled with UT students, faculty and other concerned people who took their case directly to the board of trustees. A large rally of supporters was held at the Scottish Rite Temple on June 9.

On June 11, UT announced that some aspects of the clinical program would be retained, due to the provisions of a 99-year lease agreement from 1958 that required the Hearing and Speech Center be operated by the university.

The administration did not indicate which clinical programs would continue and planned to entirely phase out over a two-year period the department and all teaching, training and research functions. This amended proposal was not acceptable and resulted in a campus protest march on June 13.

Under considerable pressure from the community and the UT Faculty Senate, on June 17, the administration announced that its proposal would be deferred until the Oct. 24 board meeting. This was viewed as only a temporary reprieve, based on statements made at the June 20 board meeting.

After members of the board received well over 1,000 contacts by individuals and professional organizations from all over the country, the administration made an alternative proposal to transfer administration and funding from the UT College of Arts and Sciences to the UT Health Science Center in Memphis.

We owe our sincere gratitude to the incredible community support that made this resolution possible. Because of the 55-year history of excellent service to the East Tennessee community, many people - including students, faculty, clients, alumni, local and state public officials, civic organizations, and members of the audiology and speech pathology profession - came forward to share their personal experiences and grave concerns with the UT administration and board, Bredesen and members of the Tennessee Legislature.

Those voices of concern and outrage were given great support and publicity by the Knoxville media, particularly by the News Sentinel, which reported each and every event, and were heard loud and clear by the board and administration.

Our campaign has demonstrated the media can educate and motivate the public to successfully challenge policies that would have a negative impact on our community.

We are grateful that East Tennesseeans will continue to receive the essential speech and hearing services that they need and deserve and that UT will continue to train and educate the next generation of professionals who will provide these services.

Thanks to the enthusiastic support of the UT Health Science Center, the board of trustees, the local print and television media and all in the community whose support helped make this a reality.

Larry Silverstein, an attorney, is the son of the late Dr. Bernie Silverstein, the founding director of the Hearing and Speech Center in 1953 and a UT professor until l996. His e-mail address is

(Laurie's Note: Copied with permission from Larry Silverstein)


Anonymous said...

Oh I'm so glad! My heart just "thrilled" to read this great news! Kudos to all that helped in retaining this program for east Tennessee!

Anonymous said...

Hi Laurie,
Congratulations on this success. I know how concerned and active you were to resolve this issue. There is power to the people. May the program have continued success in the great work they do.

Kim said...

Great job advocating for a good cause! Congrats on your success.

Cyborg Queen said...

That's wonderful to hear! That's all it and your advocating! :-) Awesome job.