Missouri university provost is third and final UTM chancellor candidate

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UNIVERSITY WELCOME - As one of the three finalists for the UT Martin chancellor position, Dr. Phillip Bridgmon was welcomed during a public forum held on campus Tuesday morning. Photo courtesy of Nathan Morgan/UTM University Relations

Sabrina Bates
MVP Regional Editor

The third and final University of Tennessee at Martin candidate, Dr. Phillip Bridgmon, made a visit to the local campus Tuesday morning. The UT System is finalizing its search for UTM’s next leader after six-year chancellor, Dr. Keith Carver, took a leadership position with the UT Institute of Agriculture in March.


The search committee narrowed the candidate pool from 41 to three and each were asked to publicly-address UTM students, staff and community members in public forums held on the Martin campus.


Dr. Bridgmon is the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, University of Central Missouri.


He serves as Chief Academic Officer and oversees a $60-million budget for the Kansas City-based university. He was the former Vice President for Academic Affairs at Arkansas Tech University and Dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Northeastern State University in Oklahoma. Dr. Bridgmon also taught courses at the University of North Alabama and University of Alabama.


He spoke of his wife of 23 years, an educator, and the couple’s three sons. He said he grew up in a rural area in Alabama in a town of about 260, where there were more livestock than people. He joked that Martin was the type of city that his family would visit on Saturdays to go shopping.


“Where I grew up, we didn’t have a UT Martin. … I have lived your mission. It only takes 1, 2, or 3 people. I want to make sure the same opportunities that were available to me are available to our students. That’s the ‘why’ I chose this path into higher education,” Dr. Bridgmon explained.


He talked of how he was given an opportunity to be a part of a university in his home state and how he thought he only wanted to teach, but that grew into leadership positions.


“Life has a way of choosing you sometimes,” he said.


Dr. Bridgmon spoke of the diversity of Northeastern State University in Oklahoma. He helped to create a center for women’s studies and expand Cherokee studies at the school at the liberal-arts college.


In his role at the University of Central Missouri, during the height of COVID, the faculty partnered with a PBS station and the state to create elementary-education lesson planning for teachers. The partnership garnered national awards. He spoke of how in his last two leadership roles, he worked to help grow enrollment and attract more state investments.


Dr. Bridgmon emphasized what he feels are leadership imperatives, which included protecting “our community,” integrity, engagement, integrity and shared governance.


‘We have a responsibility to serve. How well do we recognize the needs of others? You all have set a very high standard for serving others,” Dr. Bridgmon shared.


“Engagement means our work must matter to the students and the community. … Collectively, we are wiser together,” he added.
He talked of how UTM has regional representation and he is wanting to expand that reach into neighboring states.
“I think UT Martin is ready to soar higher and you’ve already taken off,” Dr. Bridgmon added.


He highlighted some of his goals if he were chosen as UTM’s next chancellor.


He has a vision of 10,000 enrollment within 10 years and 80-percent retention in five years and doubling annual giving in three years.
He said he wants to engage students as partners in resolving challenges, emphasizing how no student should ever be food insecure or face housing struggles.


In closing, Bridgmon left the audience with this,
“Every challenge we may face can be met by the best in us.”


Audience members had an opportunity to ask questions of the chancellor candidates during their public forums. Dave Chambliss, grounds crew team leader, addressed Dr. Bridgmon and the wage gap between his current position and the $346,000 per year salary of former UTM Chancellor Dr. Carver, which equated to a $151,000 difference. Chambliss spoke of how one of his team members has 20-plus years of experience and is an arborist. If the difference between Dr. Bridgmon and Dr. Carver’s salary was distributed among Chambliss’ grounds crew, team members could make $14.25 per hour. Chambliss said none of his crew members make that much, not even the arborist. He asked Dr. Bridgmon if he’d be willing to give up a portion of his salary to fill in wage gaps.


Dr. Bridgmon said he would immediately appoint a committee to assess needs, adding that he would focus his attention on how they value their employees.


UT System Pres. Randy Boyd emphasized the critical need for public feedback about the candidates as the System prepares to hire UTM’s next chancellor. The portal for online public feedback closes at noon on July 5. To view all three candidates’ bios and their public addresses, as well as leave feedback for the System, visit https://hr.tennessee.edu/executive-search/ut-martin-chancellor/finalists/.

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