The president of the University of Tennessee system abruptly ousted the chancellor of the flagship campus in Knoxville on Wednesday, through an unusually blunt letter that called the chancellor’s communication skills “very poor” and criticized her job performance in point-by-point detail.
The letter from UT President Joseph A. DiPietro to Chancellor Beverly Davenport came little more than a year after she took office. DiPietro charged that Davenport had been “either unwilling or unable to improve” in several areas.
“More times than I find acceptable, there has been a lack of trust, collaboration, communication and transparency” in Davenport’s relationship with the president and his team, DiPietro wrote. He also accused her of “problems with lack of organization, attention to details, timely follow-up” and of an unwillingness to “try to understand or acknowledge the value of the UT system.”
The letter asserted that Davenport, who began in Knoxville in February 2017, would be terminated as chancellor effective July 1 and be given a position as a tenured professor of communication studies. Until then, she will be on administrative leave with pay. Her initial base salary as chancellor was set at $585,000 a year.
“Obviously, this is not where either of us hoped we would be when I hired you,” DiPietro wrote.
On Thursday, DiPietro named engineering dean Wayne Davis as the Knoxville campus’s interim chancellor.
Davenport is the eighth chancellor of the flagship school, a public university with 28,000 students, a budget of $1.2 billion a year and an endowment of $581 million. She succeeded Jimmy Cheek in the position and was previously interim president of the University of Cincinnati. The UT system also includes campuses in Chattanooga and Martin, a health science center in Memphis and a handful of institutes.
Media relations officials for the UT system and for the Knoxville campus could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday afternoon.
Davenport was drawn into controversy last year over a troubled search for a head football coach. In November, the university withdrew an offer to a leading candidate for that job, Greg Schiano, after fans criticized the choice.
Davenport was viewed as popular on campus but less successful at courting the support of conservative lawmakers in Tennessee’s Republican-controlled legislature. Across the country, flagships and public university systems routinely draw scrutiny from statehouses that include many lawmakers who are alumni.
“We’re regarded as being like a Berkeley of East Tennessee, so the red-state legislators find things to find fault in us,” Beauvais Lyons, president of the Faculty Senate and an art professor at the University of Tennessee, told the Chronicle of Higher Education.