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“When progress demanded the demolition of the clubhouse during the summer of 1966,” according to a University of Tennessee Web site, the University Club moved briefly to a fraternity house, and then to its current location on the west end of the Knoxville campus.
But "progress," or change, at least, is rearing its head once again.
In June, Tennessee announced, to the dismay of employees and alumni who use the facility for meals, social events and swimming, that the University Club will be converted into a welcome center for prospective students and their families.
“Obviously, it’s a tough decision for the university to make,” said Karen Collins, a Tennessee spokeswoman. “But we have had concerns about operating losses, and we had to think of the most prudent way to use resources.”
According to Tennessee officials, the club, once a private home that was left to the university, has been losing money in recent years -- from about $45,000 in 2002 to about $161,000, excluding maintenance and utilities, in the fiscal year that ended June 30.
Collins said that the club has 1,073 members, down from 1,381 in 2000-1. Of 1,150 Tennessee faculty members, 202 belong. Monthly membership dues -- $20 for university employees, $28 for alumni, plus a $100 initiation fee -- along with money from whatever food members buy at meals and events they host are the sources of revenue for the club, which has two meals every weekday catered by the university dining service.
Members of the University Club’s board of directors said they had no idea the club was losing so much money, and they recently voted to consider raising monthly dues $20 in an effort to move the club toward the black, and preserving a place that members say is ideal for faculty mingling.
Sandra McGuire, past president of the club and an associate professor of nursing, said that, with the tight university budget, the administration's concern about the club's costs is a legitimate one. “We could be putting this money toward students,” she said, “but when you look at the big picture, how much can you do for students with $160,000,” McGuire added. “I can see both sides of the argument.”
Members of the club's board said it draws a crowd for daily lunch, but that dinner is sparsely attended. Several members said that Sunday brunch routinely draws a 100 people, and draws upward of 500 on Easter. McGuire held her son’s wedding rehearsal dinner at the club, and other special events are common.
Sylvia Lacey, an alumna, book author, and member of the board, said that her writers' group meets at the club, and she hopes it will still be available. Several members said that the club, which is on the west edge of campus, has ample parking, whereas spots are in short supply elsewhere on campus during the day.
The university, too, has its eye on the parking space. “Thousands of students and families come to visit in October,” Collins said. “Right now, the meeting place for tours is right in the middle of campus during a very busy time. Finding parking is a logistical problem.”
Collins added that the administration is working with the University Club board to see if they can continue Sunday brunches and holiday picnics.
At a meeting last Sunday, club members voted to push to keep the club open, and two members who are lawyers offered to research any legal rights the members might have to keeping the club open.
Board members said that some of the most passionate club members are people whose parents or grandparents have belonged to the club, which began in a different location in 1936.
Lacey said that some spouses of deceased faculty members and alumni use the club to stay in touch with old friends, and that they might miss the club most. The club, which has a small outdoor pool, also supports a club swim team for the children of members. Collins said that they pool may remain open if the land is not altered, and that the club mainly uses a larger pool in another location anyway.
“We tried to come up with a better business plan in 1997,” Collins said. “We added banquet space and tried to book more events. But eight years later … it’s still losing money.”