Distinguished Professor and Chancellor Emeritus
Jimmy G. Cheek is Chancellor Emeritus and Distinguished Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UT). He became the seventh chancellor of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, on February 1, 2009 and stepped down from that position on February 15, 2017 upon the arrival of Chancellor Beverly Davenport.
Within a year of taking office, he accepted the Governor’s challenge for UT to become a Top 25 public-research university in the United States. This aggressive initiative sparked exciting momentum around improving undergraduate education, graduate education, research, campus infrastructure, and securing additional financial resources which included approval by the Board of Trustees of differential tuition for 4 colleges and the 15-4 tuition model. In 2012 the campus launched a private fund-raising campaign, Join the Journey, with a goal to raise $1.1 billion by 2020.
Several new academic, research and student service buildings have been built or significantly renovated and an unprecedented $1 billion in campus construction was completed. A new student union, classroom, laboratory and research facilities were constructed, and 4 new residence halls were opened with more on the way.
Numerous changes in the university’s delivery of core services including advising, tutoring, mentoring, admissions, and other support to help students graduate on time and achieve their academic goals. These changes have dramatically improved enrollment, retention and graduation rates and brought UT's metrics closer to aspirant peers.
The increased commitment to faculty and staff salaries aided recruitment and retention of world-class faculty and staff. Cheek also has led an effort to enhance relationships with existing partners, such as Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Eastman Chemical, and to create new relationships. These partnerships broaden research and provide opportunities for collaboration with faculty and students.
A first-generation college student, Cheek set in motion several initiatives to increase diversity and student access to the university. A vice chancellor for diversity and engagement was created. The university’s work on improving access led to Cheek’s participation in two White House Summits on increasing college opportunity for low-income students.
Cheek currently serves on the United Way Tocqueville Cabinet and the Board of Directors. He was Campaign Chair in 2018. He is a member of the Delaware Valley University Board of Trustees and he is the Chair of the Board of Directors for the International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC), whose mission is to enable smallholder farmers in developing countries to increase agricultural productivity, generate economic growth and practice environmental stewardship. He is a Commissioner (Board Member) of the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities Food Systems Leadership Institute.
While Chancellor he served on the UT-Battelle Board of Governors for Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Board of Directors for United Health System, the Pat Summit Foundation, and the Southeastern Conference Board of Directors and the Executive Committee. In addition, Cheek chaired the Leadership Knoxville Board of Directors.
The Board of Trustees of the University of Tennessee System honored him for his work as Chancellor with a resolution commending him for this outstanding service to the Board, University, and State. He received the Leadership and Service Award from the Alumni Board of Directors, a Faculty Senate Resolution honoring his significant and lasting contributions, a Thomas Jefferson Cup for his support and dedication from the Chancellor’s Associates, and the Student Government Association created the Jimmy G. Cheek Visionary Award to annually recognize a visionary student leader.
He received Outstanding Alumni Awards from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Education and Human Development from Texas A&M University. Tarleton State University awarded him the President’s Legacy Award for Excellence Through Leadership.
Prior to his service with UT, Cheek was a member of the faculty and an administrator at the University of Florida for thirty-four years, last serving as senior vice president of agricultural and natural resources. While at Florida, he received the President’s Medallion and Student Body Resolution 2009-104 for dedicated and loyal service to the university and outstanding service to students, respectively, and the Morton Wolfson Faculty Award for outstanding contributions to the quality of student life. He was named to the Academy of Teaching Excellence in 2008, a Fellow of the American Association for Agricultural Education in 2005, and a Fellow of the North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture in 1998. Cheek’s research focused on the influence of experiential learning on student achievement and educational accountability.
Cheek has authored more than 80 journal articles and reports and is the senior author of a text book. He is a member of Sigma Xi, Phi Kappa Phi, Gamma Sigma Delta, Alpha Zeta, and Phi Delta Kappa honor societies. He has held major leadership positions in professional organizations and has served in numerous leadership and governance roles at the University of Florida.
Cheek earned his bachelor’s degree with high honors and his doctorate from Texas A&M University. He received his master’s degree from Lamar University. A native of Texas, he is married to Ileen Cheek, and they have two children and four grandchildren.