Tennessee Chancellor Ousted, Blasted

Unusually public, harsh dismissal letter for Beverly Davenport cites "unsatisfactory performance" across many realms.

May 3, 2018
 
Beverly Davenport

Beverly Davenport's tenure as chancellor of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville almost fell apart a few months in, when a firestorm around the hiring of a football coach linked to Penn State's Jerry Sandusky brought calls for her resignation.

She survived then -- but no longer. University of Tennessee System president Joe DiPietro fired Davenport Wednesday in an unusually public way 15 months into her term.

Her immediate dismissal was accompanied by the release (to The Tennessean of Nashville) of a brutal termination letter from DiPietro, which criticized Davenport's "lack of trust, collaboration, communication and transparency" in her relationships with him and other leaders, "very poor" communication skills in many settings, and "unwillingness" to use a professional coach, among other things.

Davenport, the university's first female chancellor, will earn $439,000 -- three-quarters of her $585,000 pay as UT's leader -- to become a tenured professor of communication at UT Knoxville.

She did not respond to an email message seeking comment and was not quoted in local newspaper articles Wednesday, either.

Before Tennessee chose Davenport as its first female chancellor in late 2016 -- DiPietro hired her -- she was interim president and senior vice president for academic affairs at the University of Cincinnati.

Her most visible brush with controversy came last fall, when the athletics director she had hired, John Currie, was reportedly on the verge of hiring Greg Schiano as coach of Tennessee's high-profile football team. Schiano had had success as coach at Rutgers University and National Football League experience, but he also had ties to Penn State's program during the now-tainted era when Sandusky, a child molester, was also there.

While much of the attention about Davenport's performance has focused on the athletics issues, DiPietro's dismissal letter suggests that may have been a sideshow.

The letter catalogs a wide range of issues on which DiPietro asserts that Davenport has underperformed and "been either unwilling or unable to improve," including organizational problems, disputes with UT system leaders, undermining colleagues and subordinates, and communication.

"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 wrote. "I also have received multiple complaints from multiple people about your ability to communicate orally. These complaints are consistent with my personal experience."

DiPietro is expected to retire himself by year's end, and analysts in Tennessee said they believed he realized he had made a mistake in hiring Davenport and wanted to fix it before he left, rather than leave it to his successor.

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