Gov. Haslam says he "supports" decision to oust Davenport

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Following student and community upset at former chancellor Beverly Davenport's termination Wednesday from the University of Tennessee, Governor Bill Haslam said Friday he supports President DiPietro's decision to relieve her. Gov. Haslam said, "It was Dr. DiPietro's decision," and he supports it at Carson-Newman's commencement ceremonies Friday morning.

On left: Wayne Davis On right: Beverly Davenport

According a statement released from the University of Tennessee Wednesday afternoon, Beverly Davenport's appointment as chancellor will end on July 1 as she becomes a member of the faculty in the College of Communication and Information. The university announced that Wayne Davis will serve as interim chancellor for six to 12 months. Davis takes office Monday.

“It is my responsibility as UT president to ensure the success of every campus, beginning with the leadership of every campus. A great deal is at stake in these hires, particularly given the importance of the flagship campus both to fulfilling the UT system mission and to that mission’s impact on the lives of all Tennesseans. Upon realizing that UT Knoxville needed a change from Dr. Davenport’s leadership, I decided to take action to address the leadership need,” UT President Joe DiPietro said.

“Dr. Davenport and I have had several conversations during her tenure as chancellor to lay out expectations, and discuss concerns. Unfortunately, issues arose that have progressed and, while I am disappointed to have to make this change, it is necessary and in the best interests of the University."

Officials announced the interim selection Thursday morning.
“Wayne Davis is a proven and respected University leader who has served the flagship campus in numerous capacities for more than four decades. As its dean, he has presided over a thriving Tickle College of Engineering, growing in enrollment, research productivity and achieving new heights of national recognition,” DiPietro said. “I greatly appreciate Wayne and his wife, Sylvia, postponing retirement to continue serving their alma mater during this critical time.”

DiPietro said Davis has served in faculty and administrative roles for 44 years, including experience as assistant dean of the Graduate School from 1985 through 1988 and as its associate dean from 1988 through 1991. He became interim dean of the Tickle College of Engineering in 2008 before assuming the role permanently in 2009.

“It is always unsettling when there is a sudden change in a senior leadership position within the university, and this situation is no exception,” Davis said. “The University of Tennessee holds a special place in my heart. As an alum, a faculty member and an administrator, I have been committed to this great University and its journey toward excellence for more than 45 years. I am deeply honored to be asked to serve in this interim role as the university identifies the next steps toward its search for a new chancellor.”

In a letter to Davenport obtained by WVLT, President DiPietro named "numerous areas of unsatisfactory performance," saying, "In several areas, even after I raised concerns early in your tenure and addressed them multiple times since then, you have been either unwilling or unable to improve."

DiPietro cited relationship issues between Davenport and other leadership members at UT, saying, "There has been a lack of trust, collaboration, communication, and transparency in these relationships," in part. DiPietro said her "transactional communication stills are very poor," and, "you have problems with lack of organization, attention to details, timely follow-up." DiPietro's letter also cited a failure to "accept ultimate responsibility in some cases where subordinates make mistakes or errors and publicly have blamed administrators who held positions before you or others in dealing with problems you inherited."

The letter detailed a compensation loss, from $585,000 annually as chancellor to $438,750 annually as professor. DiPietro said Davenport had been placed on administrative leave with pay until June 30, effective immediately as of May 2.

"Personally, I am disappointed that this action is necessary, but as President it is my duty to make decisions that are in the best interest of The University of Tennessee," DiPietro concluded. "I wish you the best as you return to the faculty."

Davenport was selected as the eighth chancellor of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in December 2016, and she arrived in early 2017 after serving as interim president. UT's Board of Trustees unanimously approved the appointment of Davenport as the first female chancellor of the university system's Knoxville campus.

Prior to her move to Vol Nation, Davenport served as the senior vice president and provost at the University of Cincinnati. She also has administrative experience at Purdue University, the University of Kansas, and the University of Kentucky.

Davenport's name gained importance during the termination and replacement search of former football coach Butch Jones, as well as the ousting and replacement of former athletics director John Currie. Davenport was part of the process of replacing former coach Jones with Jeremy Pruitt.

Davenport was hired to lead the University of Tennessee, and her first major move was hiring John Curie as athletics director; however, she would fire Currie a short eight months later, due to a poorly handled football coaching search that gained negative national attention. Perhaps her most notable and well received action as chancellor came in December 2017, when she hired Phillip Fulmer as athletics director. In mid-April 2018, Davenport extended Fulmer's contract to a four-year deal, worth close to a million dollars a year.

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In October 2017, Davenport announced her decision to opt out of a proposed plan to outsource facilities management, saying it was "not the best option" for the university campus after having conversations and receiving "volumes" of mail form people concerned about the issue. Davenport's five-year projections on the back of that decision indicated an additional $3.3 million in savings. The United Campus Workers group thanked Davenport for her decision.

On Wednesday, the United Campus Workers released a statement saying the organization condemned the decision to fire Davenport as "unjustified, hasty, and vindictive." The UCW cited Davenport's opposition to outsourcing maintenance work at the university, saying her firing was part of "retaliation."

"This is very ugly, and this is an attack on someone who was brave enough to stand up for employees," Ed McDaniel, a locksmith who worked at UT for 10 years, told WVLT Wednesday. "I believe our chancellor has been scapegoated because she opted out of outsourcing."

Davenport has a history of meeting with students and raising awareness for social issues on the UT campus, including LGBT and race relations issues. She met with students after racially discriminatory messages appeared at 'The Rock' at the school, including one message that read, "White Pride." The former chancellor released a statement condemning the paintings and urged students to gather together to reject the painted sentiments.

Davenport previously drew scrutiny in February 2018 during a Republican-led legislative meeting after she attended a fundraiser that generated more than $300,000 for the university's LGBT center. Republican Sen. Kerry Roberts of Springfield said Davenport almost took an activist role by attending the fundraiser, while she said she took hundreds of fundraising trips annually, and lawmakers had asked her to raise private money for that center.

Davenport's office was known for its all orange Power T table and a set of chairs, all made from 3-D printers as a gift from Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

On Wednesday, students gathered at Any Holt tower on UT's campus to show their support for the former chancellor, holding signs in protest and speaking about her impact on their student careers. 'The Rock' on campus was also painted with the message, "Go away Haslams, We [heart] Bev."

"All of the turnover, that doesn't just go back over the past goes back 20 years," UT student government representative Jake Tidwell told WVLT Wednesday. "Between the president, chancellor, athletic director -- just seeing all that continuously turn over, it hinders our growth as a university."

"Walked onto this campus, talked to us, 'How can I help? My name is Chancellor Davenport.' You really don't see that type connection," Student Body President Ovi Kabir said. "If we don't have a champion for students when this university is for students, how do you go forward?"

Davenport earned a PhD in communication with a minor in organizational behavior from the University of Michigan and bachelor's and master's degrees in communication and journalism from Western Kentucky University. During her time in Knoxville, Davenport has served as a member of the UT-Battelle Board of Governors, on the advisory board for Connect Knox and on the University Health System Inc. Board of Directors.

Davenport is a Bowling Green, Kentucky native. She has two grown children, Ford and Sloan.