Joe Pietro, who has been president of the University of Tennessee system for less than a year, got some backup from an unexpected source Tuesday when he spoke to Memphis Rotarians of the benefits accruing to Memphis and Shelby County from its various connections to UT, notably to the university's Health Science Center located here.
As Dr. Pietro was dissertating on the costs of education and acknowledging the modest tuition increases — in the area of 10 percent — that UT has been forced into in recent years, a Rotarian whose son attends a university in neighboring North Carolina rose to mention the fact that tuition in that state's land-grant colleges has risen by an average of 50 percent. That fact served to underscore some of the relative bargains available to students in the Volunteer State — especially at a time when, as Pietro said, the nation's educational debt burden has for the first time in American history exceeded the burden of credit-card debt.
Among the other fun facts Dr. Pietro shared with the Rotarians:
• The Health Science Center has graduated more than 53,000 health professionals in the last 100 years;
• Some 40 percent of the physicians in Tennessee trained here, as have 75 percent of the state's dentists and 40 percent of its pharmacists;
• The system's dental clinics, here and elsewhere, treat an average of 40,000 patients a year.
And, in a time of severe economic austerity, Governor Bill Haslam has budgeted some $10 million for the research consortium involving UT, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Le Bonheur Children's Hospital, and Memphis Bioworks.
One other fact: Despite facing an estimated $120 million reduction in state funding for the coming fiscal year, UT has managed to prepare for that event with minimal disruption. "We're ready," Pietro said.
And the Blue ...
The Flyer's pages — and scribe Frank Murtaugh, in particular — have documented the successful season just concluded by the University of Memphis basketball Tigers under second-year coach Josh Pastner. A C-USA tournament championship, coupled with a near-win over mighty Arizona in the NCAA tournament: not too shabby for Tiger Blue.
And now the Memphis Grizzlies (who combine their Beale Street Blue with a little bit of orange, come to think of it) have made it to the NBA playoffs, after an absence of five years, under the patient, methodical leadership of Coach Lionel Hollins. (And that process, too, has been well documented in the Flyer by the indefatigable analyst Chris Herrington.) We're willing to go out on a limb and bet that this time the Griz won't be denied a victory — unlike the case in 2004 when a last-second three-pointer by Mike Miller rimmed the basket against the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs in game three at the Pyramid or 2006 when a three-pointer at the buzzer by the Dallas Mavericks' Dirk Novitzki kept the Grizzlies from coming out on top.
And we aren't thinking the Griz will stop with just one win, either.