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BOV member spotlight – Andy Knott

In each issue of Circle Park News, we feature one or more members of the CCI Board of Visitors through a Q&A session. Andy Knott is this issue’s featured member.

Andy KnottAndy Knott is a Wealth Advisor and Portfolio Manager for Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, Inc. in Winnetka, Illinois. He earned his B.S. in Journalism from UTK in 1979 and went on to receive his JD from John Marshall Law School in 1986 and later an MBA from Duke University. Andy is a member of the Chicago Bar and American Bar Associations, the Trial Bar of the Northern District of Illinois, a former board member of the Chicago Press Association, and a Certified Financial PlannerTM professional. In his spare time, Andy serves on the Winnetka Parks Foundation and as a Vestry member at the Church of the Holy Comforter.

CCI – How and when did you first get involved (on a volunteer basis) with CCI?

Andy – Actually, I have been Dean Wirth’s unpaid Chicago driver for several years. It wasn’t until I took Alice Wirth to Oprah’s Harpo Studio for a photo op on a cold winter night that I realized he had a sense of humor. We had several meals together in the winter and spring of 2008 and talked about the current failing economics of daily journalism. I think Mike waited until I had been over-served and then put the arm on me.

CCI – In your view, what is the most important or impactful role you’ve played as a volunteer?

Andy – So far, I haven’t done much with students simply because I’m no longer in the media. Although I’ve been a big city investigative reporter and a prosecutor, I now spend my time giving financial advice. All those things, I think, have something in common – it’s the ability to search for and objectively organize facts and then tell a story.  On the Board of Visitors, I’ve focused on asking questions, cross-examining some existing assumptions and norms and then, if asked, delivering my best advice.

CCI – Why have you chosen to support the college (financially and/or with your time)? Why do you see this as important?

Andy – In all seriousness, UT was barely on my radar when I met Dean Wirth. I left Knoxville in 1979 and really never looked back. By 2008, I was supporting my law school and, in particular, the Fuqua School of Business at Duke. As an alumnus, I was very focused on Fuqua because I had been inspired by its “outrageous ambition” – a culture that led it to become one of the dozen or so business schools that seem to rotate on and off various Top Five lists.  

When my son asked to visit UT as a sophomore in high school in 2006, it was my first trip to Knoxville in a long time. Dwight Teeter and Kelly Leiter took us to lunch and I quickly realized from those two, as well as Paul Ashdown, that CCI possessed some of that same ambition that I admired at Duke. It was as if the “land grant” yoke was being taken off and CCI was attracting regional and national students.

The state’s current budget deficit has shown the flaws in the way UT has been funded, traditionally by the state legislature without much private giving. That model is changing and CCI needs every bit of outside help it can get. We need some level of permanent funding from our own endowment and this entire faculty has shown itself to be very aggressive and creative in seeking all forms of new money. How can you not admire that kind of ambition?

CCI – What do you hope to accomplish during your term with the BOV?

Andy – I’m leaving the “vision thing” to the professionals. Mostly, I want to help the dean and the department heads do whatever needs to be done as they wrestle with what Joseph Schumpeter, the Austrian economist, referred to as “creative destruction.” The business models of journalism and media are changing quickly. One cycle is collapsing. In theory, innovation will lead to the next long-wave cycle. And while I have no idea what news-gathering and editorial operations will look like in 10 years, I also don’t want us to become a nation of bloggers, either. We just need to figure out how to pay for this hard-earned content. That said, these are early days of something new. A free, healthy press is one of the bedrocks of our democracy, so in that respect, what goes on at a journalism school is important and exciting.

CCI – Is there anything exciting or interesting going on “behind the scenes” in CCI of which the average alum might not be aware?

Andy – Yep, but if I told you….okay, okay, okay…CCI has a relatively new interactive media lab buried deep below Circle Park Drive that seems like it is begging for a commercial application, or certainly more grant money than has been realized so far. I’ve introduced the lab idea to an interactive research firm in Chicago headed by an MD/PhD on the faculty at Northwestern University. There are particular projects for which Northwestern is keenly interested in hiring the CCI User-Experience Laboratory. It’s one of those things — if it were to happen — that could become a success story; which could lead to more success stories. As far as I am concerned, every ad agency in America ought to be using our lab to test their on-line ad response rates.

Peter Gross is aggressively trying to bring new resources into the journalism program and he is building on a new relationship with the McCormick Foundation here in Chicago to secure funding for various projects. He is looking for funding for an “innocence project” where UT journalism students will investigate selective cases of felons who might have been wrongly convicted. If Peter can find the seed money to get the program off the ground, UT will be only the fifth J-school in the country doing these kinds of investigative reporting projects. Just the idea alone has already attracted interest from “48 Hours” producers at CBS News, because of the potential pipeline of stories. Having been on both sides of those criminal justice stories, it doesn’t get any more “real life” than that.

CCI – If someone is considering volunteerism as a way to “give back” to the University, what advice would you have for them? Why should they do it?

Andy – I agree with fellow board member Tom Adkinson’s view – as human beings, we all crave being part of something bigger than us – a community, if you will. I like the give and take of working with the faculty and consider my service as a quid pro quo for what I took from the school years ago. It is said that life-long learning is something that improves the quality of your life as we age. I was a thick-headed child on my first go-round. Now, as an adult, I see this place through a different lens. What could be more exciting than to expose yourself to new ideas at the place where you got started?

CCI – What from your UT and CCI experience has “stuck with you” during life since graduating?

Andy – Three people, in particular, helped me make my way to the Chicago Tribune upon graduation. First, the late June Adamson’s basic reporting class. Who, what, where, why, when?  Although I had been writing for newspapers since I was 16, I had no formal training until I enrolled at UT and got into her class. I didn’t really even understand how to write a lead. I usually tried to put the nut graph in the lead, so I was just a mess. That woman took pity on me and made me a damn good reporter.

Second, was the late Professor John Hohenberg, who opened up the world of Pultizer Prize-quality compe
titive investigative reporting to a former college drop-out who spent a year living in a trailer, working as a sports writer in south Georgia. He prepared me for the crusty city editors at Chicago Tribune because he was always barking at us to “Go with what you got.”

Lastly, Professor Kelly Leiter has always been a positive sounding board for me and my ideas. He encouraged me to pursue the Tribune. When I was considering going to law school at night, it looked like the scariest thing I’d ever done, but he said it would be fine, and ultimately, he was right.

CCI – What is your favorite memory from your time as a student at UT?

Andy – Being the sports editor of The Daily Beacon and trying, with mixed success, to follow in the footsteps of Debbie Jennings and Paul Finebaum. Debbie works in the UT athletic department and has been a pioneer in the field of women’s college sports. Finebaum, of course, is now the official “mouth of the South” in Birmingham.

Two summer internships – the Knoxville New-Sentinel the summer Elvis died and James Earl Ray escaped from Brushy Mountain Prison; Memphis the next summer on the second anniversary of Elvis’s death when the National Guard was called in because police and fire went on strike. Those two summers sealed the deal for me and journalism.

CCI – Anything else you’d like to share?

Andy – I think I’ve said enough.