The University of Tennessee at Knoxville is making history.
UT Trustees named Beverly Davenport as its first female chancellor. She’s been on the job since February.
“I asked one woman who was a first, ‘What do you say to people when they ask you that?’ She said sometimes I tell them ‘I’m sad it took this long.’ I never feel sad though.” said Davenport. “I don’t feel that way. I feel a great honor, a great responsibility.”
She also feels that passion of Big Orange Country. It was on full display when Al Roker from the Today Show came to campus to witness UT shatter a world record. More than 4000 people formed the largest human letter, The Power T.
“There is something special here about that sense of pride and this institution and its traditions. I love it and I feel it," she said.
Davenport says her job is to keep UT on a path laid before her. It is a journey to become one of the top 25 state universities in the nation. Her strategy is simple: share with the world what sets Tennessee apart.
“Our connections are beyond this country and beyond this state. I just want to tell our story bolder and bigger and that moves us ahead.” said Davenport.
She must also contend with past and present issues facing the university. We asked Davenport her thoughts and opinions on a number of topics.
When it comes to outsourcing jobs on campus, Davenport is assessing data from a recent study before taking a stand.
We also asked whether she would reinstate the Office of Diversity after state lawmakers stripped its funding for a year. Davenport said administrative structures are secondary to the culture and climate that is nurtured and supported. She adds, “ I want a campus where everyone feels welcome to come and feels safe and like a place for them.”
Davenport is also studying whether to return the title “Lady Vols” to all UT women sports teams. She will make that decision alongside UT’s new athletics director, John Currie. He was Davenport's first hire as chancellor. She and a search committee chose him over fan favorites including former UT football coach, Phillip Fulmer and former UT assistant athletic director, David Blackburn. The decision to hire Currie proved divisive.
“I absolutely stand behind the process.” said Davenport. “We had a search committee. Faculty was represented on that search committee, athletics was represented, donors, athletes were represented on that committee, I stand behind it.”
As Beverly Davenport leads the state’s flagship university through the 21st century, she says you can’t sit still. She says she welcomes all voices and views to help guide her.
”The best is yet to come," she says. We have great assets here and the world is going to know even more than they already do about the University of Tennessee.”