Vote of confidence for University of Tennessee president
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The outgoing University of Tennessee board of trustees passed a resolution Thursday giving a vote of full confidence to UT President Joe DiPietro — a direct response to the Faculty Senate’s censure of the president for ousting the flagship school’s first female chancellor.
Vice Chairman Raja Jubran said DiPietro had always had the best interest of the UT system at heart and had restored confidence in the office of the presidency.
“Joe has been a tireless advocate and supporter of faculty across the UT System, and has approached every matter with the goal of doing what was in the best interest of the institution,” Jubran said. “I think it’s extremely important to set the record straight and commend Joe for everything he has done for the University.”
In its decision to censure DiPietro’s action Monday, the faculty Senate accused him of failing to be transparent on controversial issues such as outsourcing jobs on campuses and the post-tenure review of professors. But it also mentioned the termination letter DiPietro sent to then-Chancellor Beverly Davenport. Some Senate members who read it said they found its tone blistering and highly personal. The letter was released in response to a public records request.
In it, DiPietro rated as “very poor” Davenport’s one-on-one, small-group and business-transactional communication skills. He also said she had a poor relationship with him and his leadership team, had been unable to acclimate to the UT system, lacked organization, and failed to communicate a strategic vision for the campus. Davenport was placed on administrative leave with pay until June 30, and is to be reassigned as a faculty member in the university’s college of communication and information.
She did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment Thursday.
The United Campus Workers, a union of higher education employees, has condemned the firing of Davenport, calling it retaliation for her opposition to the outsourcing of jobs on campus, a move pushed by Gov. Bill Haslam.
Haslam and Jubran both have said the outsourcing issue played no part in her dismissal. At Thursday’s board meeting, Jubran asserted that this was nothing more than a toxic rumor that had spread on campus. And former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe wrote columns criticizing Davenport’s leadership in the local news media.
The union wasn’t buying it.
“Jubran, DiPietro and Haslam can all swear that they won’t keep pursuing a privatization agenda, but the fact is they’ve fired the one person in the administration who took action to stop it, and liquidated the board that did not overturn her decision (though cuts are being forced by DiPietro and Jubran in retaliation),” union leaders said in a statement Thursday.
The union also criticized a new law, backed by Haslam, that reconfigures the board of trustees and shrinks it from 27 voting members to 11 voting members. The new board will meet in July.
Davenport was ousted less than 15 months into a job that had been marked by controversy. One of her first major moves after taking office in February 2017 was to hire athletic director John Currie, who led a search for a football coach that embarrassed the university, prompting Davenport to fire him before a new football coach could be hired.
Conservatives in the state’s Republican-led legislature were also unhappy about the university’s progressive social environment.
Lawmakers grilled Davenport earlier this year about her attendance at a fundraiser that generated $300,000-plus for the school’s LGBT center. The fundraiser was held after the Legislature voted in 2016 to divert almost $446,000 from the university’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion, which funded the Pride Center. Before the funding change in 2016, lawmakers were angry that the office recommended use of gender-neutral pronouns for transgender students and avoiding religious-themed holiday parties.
Republican Sen. Kerry Roberts of Springfield said Davenport almost took an activist role by attending the LGBT center fundraiser.