Fallout from DiPietro’s ‘very unpleasant decision’ to fire UT-Knoxville chancellor

On his first day as interim chancellor at The University of Tennessee-Knoxville, Wayne Davis endured an uncomfortable press conference alongside UT President Joe DiPietro, reports WBIR. The primary subject was Beverly Davenport, who was fired last week by DiPietro as UT Knoxville chancellor and given a faculty position instead.

The UT Faculty Senate, meanwhile, approved a resolution denouncing DiPietro for ditching Davenport as chancellor.

DiPietro introduced Davis, a well-respected and longtime head of the College of Engineering, as interim chancellor. It was the first opportunity for the media to question DiPietro about his decision, which has been met with protests from both students and faculty members.

DiPietro, who kept referring to the “very unpleasant decision” to demote Davenport, reiterated that he’d had conversations with Davenport for more than a year about his concerns about her job performance.

“This wasn’t personal,” he said, but acknowledged he may have made a misstep in his dismissal letter by addressing her by her first name. He said if he could revise the letter, he would refer to her as Dr. Davenport or Chancellor Davenport, but still said the media was “making too much of it.”

He stands behind his criticism in the letter, and said it’s not surprising that further examination of Davenport’s personnel file did not find any evidence of the problems he mentioned because annual evaluations are not public record.

He said he felt he had to be clear in the letter about his rationale and reasons for his decision, and reiterated that he and Davenport had discussed his concerns frequently.

DiPietro said it became clear that his concerns about Davenport’s job performance would not be corrected, and felt that since he hired her, it was his responsibility to dismiss her.

… When asked if it was unusual to place someone in the College of Communication who was criticized for her communications skills, DiPietro said his concerns were for her “transactional business communication” and that Davenport had been a strong faculty member in the past and expected her to do well in that role at UTK.

…Davis has agreed to serve for one year in an interim role. DiPietro acknowledged that he would be retiring in the near future, but still has not set a date. A new Board of Trustees will be sworn in in July.

The Knoxville TV station has a separate post on the UT Faculty Senate resolution. An excerpt:

The resolution lists several instances where DiPietro’s actions have “undermined the stability, reputation and mission of UTK.”

After over and hour of discussion, the resolution pass 72-17 with one abstention. A second resolution to show no confidence in DiPietro failed.

“Any vote from a faculty senate, even no confident of censure is essentially symbolic,” faculty senate president-elect Misty Anderson said. “It has no binding legal teeth. It does have consequences, and we enter into that but those are largely political.”

Those voting against the resolution argued that the timing of the vote was not appropriate and that senators were voting emotionally. A motion to postpone the vote failed.

Senators in support of the resolution say it comes after a series of events and decisions that they believe are not in the best interest of the university’s future. Other cited examples were DiPietro’s handling of outsourcing decisions and post-tenure review.

DiPietro told faculty senate leaders Monday that he will agree to meet with them this summer.

“We really are interested in a conversation, and we felt that if we said ‘no confidence,’ that is equivalent to calling the removal of an officer,” Anderson said. “We do object to some very specific behaviors and some specific choices and we want a chance to talk about how we can all do better.”


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