- Associated Press - Saturday, February 18, 2017

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Beverly Davenport, the eighth chancellor of the University of Tennessee, as of Wednesday, Feb. 15, said she lives her life by semesters.

At 62, Davenport - who was sworn in unanimously by the UT Board of Directors in December to replace former Chancellor Jimmy Cheek - has spent the larger part of her life on college campuses.

“I’m really excited to feel the rhythms of this campus,” Davenport said. “I really haven’t gotten out to walk the campus yet, but I came up the elevator this morning and knew all the people in the elevator were students, and I love the feel of a campus.”

As an undergraduate student at Western Kentucky University, Davenport studied communication and journalism before going on to earn a Ph.D. in communication studies from the University of Michigan.

Davenport said she was set on law school, “like many people who study communication and forensics and debate,” but through the guidance of a close undergraduate professor, found her true calling in teaching and hasn’t looked back since.

“He gave me the chance to teach a class, and that was it. I was hooked,” she said. “I think teaching is a calling. I think it’s something that you have in you.

“You just know right away if it’s rewarding for you.”

The kind of unique, allegiant community a university environment fosters has come to feel like home to Davenport, who said she’s attracted to the “excitement, energy and diversity” of college life.

“The full gamut of research, teaching, engagement and service to communities in which one is a part,” she said of her attraction to Tennessee.

Before being appointed to serve as UT’s chancellor, Davenport worked at the University of Cincinnati as the interim president since July 2016. Before then, she served three years as UC’s senior vice president for academic affairs and provost.

During her tenure, she oversaw major recruitment initiatives that significantly increased the number of minority faculty members and nearly doubled the number of women faculty.

Davenport herself is the first female chancellor at UT Knoxville and said diversity remains at the forefront when she hires new faculty. This will be especially important during Davenport’s first few months at UT when she will have to hire several top administration positions, including athletic director and provost.

While hiring a diverse staff remains critical to Davenport, she said she’s chiefly concerned with attracting the very best talent for UT students.

“I would never want to be hired because I was a woman,” Davenport said. “I’m extremely proud to be the first woman, but you look at all that a person brings to a position.”

Davenport’s appointment as UT chancellor comes at an interesting and somewhat tumultuous time for the university after two major controversies in 2016 left students questioning the university’s commitment to cultivating an inclusive environment.

In 2016, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam allowed a bill to become law that diverted $445,883 from the university’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion, effectively shutting down several campus resources like the Pride Center and removing university-paid staff members like Pride Center director Donna Braquet and the former Vice Chancellor for Diversity Rickey Hall.

Students have voiced their concern and discontent for the university’s, and especially for former Chancellor Cheek’s, handling of such legislative overreach at the public university. But Davenport said she hopes to mend the frayed relationship between the UT community and Tennessee legislature.

“These jobs are about relationships; leadership is about relationships,” Davenport said. “We have to use strategies that educate, that heighten awareness, that find ways to bring people together . and it’s not easy work. It takes time and it takes care . and we’ll be working on those relationships.”

In 2016, UT also settled a $2.48 million lawsuit over federal Title IX allegations, which claimed the university maintains a “hostile sexual environment” for female employees.

Davenport said she has experienced issues and concerns over diversity at every university where she’s worked and studied. Most recently, in July 2015 at Davenport’s former university, a campus police officer was indicted for the shooting death of an unarmed black man at a traffic stop.

“I’ve worked on these issues at every place I’ve been,” Davenport said. “We have to make this a community where people want to come to if we want to be the world class institution that we aspire to be.”

In moving forward with diversity and inclusion efforts at UT, Davenport said she wants most to hear from the students and faculty who were involved and affected by the law that dissolved diversity programming.

“I won’t be on a campus that is not welcoming and supportive of all of us,” Davenport said. “We all have to rally behind that message.”

Davenport said she’s optimistic about UT’s future and the upward trajectory of retention and graduation rates that have increased over recent years. She said her core concern is the success and experience of college students, and that’s one quality of UT she has been most impressed with.

“Students are thriving here, and that’s absolutely what we want to build on: a community that helps students succeed,” she said.

“But it’s going to take all of you all, and all of us. It’s not just one person who does this work.”

When Davenport isn’t looking for ways to improve higher education institutions, she said she can be found working on her house, antique shopping, reading Southern women writers or scrolling through Pinterest.

More than anything, she wants students to think of her as a teacher - someone who’s approachable and accessible and wants education to shape their experience as positively and powerfully as it has hers.

“I’m here to have the experience with you, not to structure it for you but to be a part of it,” Davenport said. “I can see the tradition and the pride (here at UT) . You are part of something really special; it’s pretty remarkable . I’m excited to feel this pride and be a part of this Big Orange Country.”


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