Reaction strong to firing of UT Chancellor Beverly Davenport

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Reaction has been strong, both on campus and on social media, to the firing of University of Tennessee Beverly Davenport, ranging from students protesting in support of Davenport, to those who feel her firing was a form of retaliation, and those who felt it ironic that communications problems were noted as a reason for her firing, yet she’s being retained as a communications professor.

UT President Joe DiPietro announced Wednesday Davenport was being fired from her position as chancellor effective July 1. 

Related storyBeverly Davenport fired as UT chancellor, to remain on staff

When rumors of the announcement began to swirl, students gathered near the administrative building on campus in support of Davenport. 

The students said they wanted to show a sign of support for Davenport. Students say they are heartbroken over this news and that Davenport and students deserve better. 

“She has done the right thing ever since she walked on this campus and she cares more about this region, not just the university but East Tennessee. She’s one of us,” said senior Turner Matthews.

“We’ve now had two chancellor changes in my two years here and I just think it’s unacceptable to keep watching administration be pulled back and just moved around so much. We have no stable system in place that our students can depend upon that we can contact and voice our concerns to,” said student Brian McCaroll.

The university’s Student Government Association tweeted in support of Davenport.

Others felt her firing was because she had opted out of Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to outsource facilities management services.

A university worker told WATE 6 On Your Side reporter Laura Halm that he now fears for his job.

“This is not good. This is someone who’s stood up for employees, that has stood up against outsourcing,” said locksmith Ed McDaniel. “She’s been scapegoated. She’s being let go because she stood up against the governor and stood up for her employees who’ve proven themselves time and time again that we deserve to be here and we deserve our benefits and we do not deserve to be out sourced. And we believe, I know this is the one reason she’s being let go no matter what else they say, sports or anything else, it’s because she stood up for us.”

United Campus Workers said in a statement they condemned Davenport’s firing, calling it unjustified, hasty and vindictive, and claiming it was retaliation for Davenport’s outsourcing decision.

Complaining of “unsatisfactory” relationships between the teams of the President’s and the Chancellor’s offices, UT System President DiPietro announced today that he had terminated UTK Chancellor Davenport’s administrative appointment. UCW condemns this decision as unjustified, hasty, and vindictive. 
DiPietro and Davenport have been at loggerheads ever since Chancellor Davenport chose to exercise her right to opt out of a controversial contract to outsource all facilities workers on campus to a private company, JLL. This initiative was spearheaded by Governor Haslam and, as FOIA requests from UCW revealed, both Pres. DiPietro and Board of Trustees Vice Chair Jubran pushed hard for it behind the scenes. When Chancellor Davenport opted out of the contract, DiPietro went on the offensive, claiming that the University was responsible for making up the equivalent savings to JLL’s fictitious bid, even though he had insisted that as long as campus leaders justified their decisions (as Chancellor Davenport and Vice Chancellor Chris Cimino did), there would be no retaliation.

Today, we see the next piece of that retaliation. The University of Tennessee, Knoxville has seen one crisis after another under the leadership of DiPietro and Governor Haslam as they attempt to undermine the institution for corporate profit and extremist policies, even as both are nearing the end of their respective terms in office. There has been massive turnover in upper administration, and given the time it takes to make responsible hiring decisions, Chancellor Davenport has not been given sufficient time to assemble a team that would reflect her values and vision. Her firing will create yet another crisis of leadership and confidence at the university, which is already facing great uncertainty with the dissolving of the current Board of Trustees and the appointment of a new, smaller Board by Gov. Haslam in the waning days of his lame duck term–a process which is itself stuck in legislative limbo as numerous of his nominees failed to receive confirmation from the Tennessee State Legislature. 

President DiPietro has consistently acted in ways that contradicted the will and the best interests of the UTK community, from students to staff to faculty. He cites a “lack of trust, collaboration, communication, and transparency” between Chancellor Davenport’s office and his own–UCW agrees with this diagnosis, but we place the blame for this on DiPietro himself.

The Rock was painted on Thursday to say, “Go away Haslams. We (heart) Bev.” Protestors were seen there on Wednesday as well.

Not everyone has disagreed with Davenport’s termination.

“I am incredibly shocked by the news, but very relieved,” said recent graduate Kayla Parker. 

Parker, who graduated in 2017, says her time in Knoxville was not what it should have been. 

“I did not have the best relationship or respect towards Chancellor Davenport,” said Parker. “Just some ways she handled personal experiences of mine.”

In 2016, the school suspended a male student after the school’s “Student Conduct Community Standards” or SCCS, investigated a sexual assault that involved Parker. In a letter to Parker from UT, Beverly Davenport decided to reverse the suspension allowing that student to graduate.

“To grant a degree to the person who raped me, was disappointing, shocking and was not the ending to my college experience that I would have liked,” said Parker. 

Others were quick to point out that one of the reasons for Davenport’s firing was a lack of communication skills, but she is being moved to a professor position within the College of Communications.

“I’m surprised it took this long to be honest,” said Pellissippi State student and UT fan Danielle Martin. “I heard that the reason they fired her was for communications, but yet she’s going to be in charge of the college of communications which doesn’t really make sense. If you’re getting fired for communication issues why would you be running the communication department at a college?”

DiPietro’s letter named seven reasons for Davenport’s firing, including an unsatisfactory relationship with the president and his team, an unwillingness to meet with a professional coach, a failure to acclimate herself to the UT system, poor communication skills, lack of organization, failure to accept responsibility, and a failure to communicate a defined strategic vision to campus.

There’s no word yet on her replacement.

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