Donde Plowman
Chancellor, University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Donde Plowman has served since 2019 as chancellor of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, the state’s flagship land-grant research university. In that time, she oversaw a 19% increase in enrollment even as many university enrollments have dropped dramatically. The university has also hit records in student retention rates, alumni giving, state support, and research expenditures. 

UT has a footprint that spans the entire state, including the main campus in Knoxville, the Space Institute in Tullahoma, and the Institute of Agriculture and its Extension offices in all 95 counties. Plowman oversees a campus budget of $1.9 billion as well as more than 36,000 students, nearly 7,000 staff, and more than 1,800 full-time faculty. For three years in a row UT has been named a Best Large Employer by Forbes. 

Her role as chancellor includes oversight of Tennessee Athletics, an operation approaching $200 million, to which she has provided decisive and timely leadership. In 2020, she was selected by her peers in the Southeastern Conference to represent the SEC as a member of the NCAA Presidential Forum and in 2023 was elected Vice President of the SEC Executive Committee. 

Shortly after her arrival, Plowman created the Division of Student Success to implement a strengths-based approach to helping students transition to college life. The university saw immediate results in its retention, persistence, and graduation rates and captured the attention of peers across higher education. In 2022, Gallup recognized the university’s work with the Don Clifton Strengths for Students Award. 

Around the same time, Plowman also challenged the campus to develop a new shared vision for its future. Following months of collaboration across all colleges and divisions, the university unveiled a new strategic vision in fall 2021 that focused on cultivating the modern land-grant university. This vision, along with a new branding campaign titled “It Takes a Volunteer,” centered on a shared commitment to discovery, creativity, learning, and engagement in community where every Volunteer matters and belongs. 

Under four years of Plowman’s leadership, the university has doubled its annual research awards, hitting a record $428 million, and greatly expanded innovation and economic development partnerships with companies like AT&T, Eastman, and Volkswagen. 

Plowman was recognized for her leadership and communications through the COVID-19 pandemic, which struck just seven months into her tenure as chancellor. Throughout the pandemic, the campus remained focused on successfully delivering programs that kept students safe and on track for graduation. College Magazine named UT among the top five universities in the country for its response to the pandemic. 

Prior to becoming chancellor, she served as dean of the College of Business and then executive vice chancellor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She was previously a 

department head at UT. Plowman is a globally recognized organizational scientist whose scholarship includes the topics of leadership, change management, and strategic decision making. 

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