University of Tennessee chancellor being forced out of post

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee chancellor Beverly Davenport is being forced out of her post after less than 15 months at the helm, a tenure that included a tumultuous search for a head football coach and other controversies.

University president Joe DiPietro announced Wednesday that Davenport’s term will end July 1, citing her ”unsatisfactory performance” in a termination letter he made public from her 2017 evaluation.

Davenport was hired as Tennessee’s chancellor in November 2016 and took over in February 2017. Her tenure included the rocky search for a football coach that resulted in the removal of athletic director John Currie, whom Davenport had hired.

”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,” DiPietro wrote in his termination letter to Davenport.

He wished her the best on her return to the faculty.

Davenport, who was interim president of the University of Cincinnati when she was tapped to lead the large public university, is being placed on administrative leave with pay until June 30 and will be reassigned as a faculty member in the university’s college of communication and information. Davenport will receive $438,750 for her faculty role each of the next four years, three-quarters of the $585,000 salary she was making as chancellor.

DiPietro had said in his termination letter that Davenport’s one-on-one, small-group and business transactional communication skills were ”very poor.” His other concerns with Davenport included her relationship with DiPietro and his leadership team, her inability to acclimate to the UT system, her lack of organization and failure to communicate a strategic vision to the campus.

Davenport couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Her removal comes as Tennessee’s Board of Trustees undergoes an overhaul. A new law that was backed by Gov. Bill Haslam reconfigures the board and shrinks it from 27 to 11 voting members.

DiPietro said he was better off making a change rather than putting Davenport on a ”formal performance improvement plan” because of the number of concerns needing to be addressed and the lack of trust in their relationship. DiPietro also cited the Board of Trustees’ lack of support for Davenport as well as his belief that she’d have similar problems with the new board.

After the university announced Davenport’s removal, dozens of students gathered on campus to show their support for her.

Davenport drew much scrutiny during her brief term.

One of Davenport’s first moves as chancellor was to hire Currie as athletic director. Currie lasted just eight months before Davenport placed him on paid leave and replaced him with former football coach Phillip Fulmer. Currie eventually reached a $2.5 million settlement with the school.

According to emails obtained in a public records request, Davenport removed Currie one day after she spent six hours unsuccessfully trying to reach him about the state of Tennessee’s football coaching search. Currie was meeting Washington State coach Mike Leach at the time but hadn’t informed Davenport.

Less than a week earlier, Currie and Greg Schiano signed a memorandum of understanding to make the Ohio State defensive coordinator the new Volunteers football coach before the deal fell apart amid a public backlash. The memorandum of understanding, which wasn’t signed by Davenport, would have given Schiano a six-year, $27 million contract.

Fulmer eventually hired Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt as football coach.

Last fall, the Knoxville campus declined to privatize its facilities management services, an option Haslam touted as a possible money saver for higher education institutions. Afterward, DiPietro said he would task chancellors of campuses who declined such moves with finding equivalent savings without outsourcing.

Davenport had said the decision was due to the university’s extensive financial analyses, the complexity of the work done on the research-intensive campus and its commitment to eastern Tennessee’s economy and its workforce.

Additionally, in February, a Republican-led state Senate grilled Davenport about her attendance at a fundraiser that generated $300,000-plus for the school’s LGBT center.

It followed the Republican-led legislature’s 2016 vote to divert almost $446,000 from the university’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion, which funded the Pride Center. The school now is only seeking private funding.

Before the funding change in 2016, lawmakers were angry that the office recommended use of gender-neutral pronouns for transgender students and to avoid religious-themed holiday parties.

Republican Sen. Kerry Roberts of Springfield said Davenport almost took an activist role by attending the LGBT center fundraiser.

Davenport said she takes hundreds of fundraising trips annually, adding that lawmakers asked her to raise private money for that center.

Associated Press writer Jonathan Mattise in Nashville, Tennessee, contributed to this report.