Beverly Davenport out as University of Tennessee chancellor [document]

University of Tennessee Chancellor Beverly Davenport and Phillip Fulmer, left, hold a news conference on Friday, Dec. 1, 2017, after Fulmer was named acting athletic director. (Calvin Mattheis/News Sentinel)

Saying the University of Tennessee at Knoxville "needed a change," UT system President Joe DiPietro on Wednesday effectively fired Chancellor Dr. Beverly Davenport as head of UT's flagstaff campus.

As a result, Davenport, who became chancellor less than 16 months ago, has been placed on administrative leave until she officially leaves the post on July 1.

She then will become a member of the faculty in the College of Communication and Information at a reduced salary.

"It is my responsibility as UT president to ensure the success of every campus, beginning with the leadership of every campus," DiPietro said in a news release. "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."

photo University of Tennessee Chancellor Beverly Davenport listens during a press conference, Friday, Dec. 1, 2017, in Knoxville, Tenn., where Phillip Fulmer was named athletic director at the university. The university placed former AD John Currie on paid leave amid what has been a tumultuous and embarrassing football coaching search. (Calvin Mattheis/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP)

DiPietro said that "upon realizing that UT Knoxville needed a change from Dr. Davenport's leadership, I decided to take action to address the leadership need."

In a letter to Davenport, also dated Tuesday, DiPietro told the chancellor, "I have decided that it is in the best interest of The University of Tennessee to change the leadership of our flagship campus and terminate your appointment as Chancellor of The University of Tennessee, Knoxville."

Under terms of a prior agreement, her $585,000 salary as chancellor will go down to $438,750 as a professor, which is 75 percent of her initial base salary as chancellor, for four years. In the fifth year, her compensation drops to that of the average base salary of full professors in the department.

DiPietro also cited a just-completed performance evaluation that he said he discussed with Davenport last week.

He noted it "describes numerous areas of unsatisfactory performance. 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."

The effective firing comes after Davenport spent less than 16 months in the job after a national search by a professional search firm that came up with candidates for the chancellorship.

Since then, Davenport has been engulfed in several controversies. For example, she became a central figure during a tumultuous year in Tennessee athletics.

Among the first items Davenport was tasked with as chancellor was to hire an athletic director to replace the outgoing Dave Hart.

Davenport passed on fan-favorite candidates Phillip Fulmer, a former Tennessee football coach, and David Blackburn, who was the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletic director at the time.

Instead, she hired John Currie, a former Tennessee athletics administrator who had spent the previous eight years as the athletic director at Kansas State.

Several months later, Davenport replaced Currie with Fulmer amid Currie's unsuccessful search for Tennessee's next football coach.

Fulmer expressed his gratitude to Davenport last month when a four-year contract for Fulmer to continue as athletic director was announced.

"We are all so much better when we are aligned and pushing ahead together," Fulmer said in a statement.

Now, just two weeks later, there is another major shakeup in the university's leadership.

Since DiPietro became president at the beginning of 2011, Tennessee has had four athletic directors, four men's basketball coaches, three football coaches and soon will have a third chancellor.

Sources indicated Wednesday that the ousting of Davenport had been discussed by upper-level administrators as a possibility for more than a year.

Still, the announcement appeared to catch Davenport by surprise.

Just Monday, she sent an email to students and alumni with the subject line "Our Future is Bright."

In it, Davenport wrote that it has "become my mission to make sure that across this state and this country, people know of the great minds and talents and research and exploration we have here at Rocky Top."

Since becoming chancellor, Davenport also had drawn fire from conservative state legislators, already upset before her arrival over controversies including Sex Week, an annual student-led program that seeks to educate students on safe-sex practices.

At a joint House and Senate Government Operations Committee meeting earlier this year, conservative lawmakers railed about Sex Week and other issues. Those included Davenport's participation in a Nashville fundraiser for the campus' LGBT Center, which lost funding after GOP lawmakers deleted state funding for the university's Office of Diversity.

One Republican senator questioned why UT would let pro-abortion groups speak on campus but raised concerns about white nationalists.

Davenport also riled feathers by siding with UT-Knoxville maintenance and operations staff and deciding against Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's proposed facilities outsourcing contract.

But there have long been rumblings in various quarters about her management style, issues that DiPietro raised directly in his letter to the chancellor.

"The relationship between us, as well as that between you (and some members of your cabinet) and some on my leadership team continues to be unsatisfactory," DiPietro said in the letter. "More times than I find acceptable, there has been a lack of trust, collaboration, communication, and transparency in these relationships, and it has been counterproductive to the collective success of the university."

Moreover, DiPietro told the chancellor, "you would have benefited from a professional coach, and your unwillingness to routinely engage one, despite my recommendation that you do so, has been frustrating."

And on another front, DiPietro said, "you have not acclimated yourself to the UT system and still appear unwilling to try to understand or acknowledge the value of the UT system. I continue to detect that you (and some members of your cabinet) have an 'us (UTK) vs. them (UT system and UT Board)' mentality."

DiPietro described as "very poor" Davenport's "one on one, small group, and business transactional communication skills," adding, "I have had multiple people on multiple occasions complain that you do not listen to the person talking to you or pay attention to the details of written communications you receive."

DiPietro also noted he had received "multiple complaints from multiple people about your ability to communicate orally. These complaints are consistent with my personal experience."

He also criticized her in other areas, saying "regularly, you have problems with lack of organization, attention to details, timely follow-up."

Another DiPietro criticism: "You have failed to communicate to the campus a defined strategic vision of where you want to take the institution and a plan for its implementation."

"Obviously, this is not where either of us hoped we would be when I hired you," DiPietro told her in the letter. "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. I wish you the best as you return to the faculty."

Contact Andy Sher at or 615-255-0550.

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