KNOXVILLE - The University of Tennessee's first female chancellor is finally on campus, but while Beverly Davenport is humbled by that, it's not what drives her.
“Am I humbled, am I honored to be the first woman? You bet. Do I wake up thinking about it? No. I’ve been doing my work for a long time. If I inspire a young woman, a student to think well I never thought about that as a career option, well maybe I’ve done some good work in this world," said Davenport.
Davenport walked onto campus knowing she would have a "full plate" of issues to tackle if she were to become chancellor.
“Yes, we have challenges. Yes, of course we have issues to address. There's not a college campus in this country or world that isn’t looking at these issues as well," Davenport said Wednesday during her first day on the job.
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At the top of Davenport's list is making campus a safe place for all students by cracking down on sexual assault.
“It probably keeps me up at night more than anything else that I deal with. It’s a safety and a health issue that’s equally as important as anything else that we deal with," she said.
Davenport said she aligns her beliefs on sexual assault on campus with the national "It's On Us" campaign, which challenges everyone to do their part in stopping sexual assault.
The ongoing battle over funding UT's Office of Diversity and Pride Center will need to led by Davenport. This is an issue she's already very clear on.
“There will be funding and I will only be on a campus where every student is made to feel welcome and important and safe. I wouldn’t be on a campus if I wasn’t committed to or wouldn’t find revenue to support all of our students," said Davenport.
One of the more time sensitive challenges Davenport says she hopes to resolve quickly is the search for a new Athletic Director.
She says the ideal candidate would be someone with integrity, leadership experience, administrative experience and someone who has dealt with tough compliance issues before at a large university. She said they are working quickly to finish the search.
"We're working really quickly. I’m here. We have the team together. We have a great search consultant. Look at them, they’ve just landed some of the biggest AD’s in the country. This is who we want. I talk to them every day. I talked to them last night. We’re going to go very quickly now," said Davenport.
Davenport would not comment on any candidates who are being considered for the position.
Davenport said she's committed to building relationships with students. It's what she spent her first morning in office doing. She plans to do this by communication as well as action.
“You provide the services that they need, the opportunities that they need. you let them know you and see you and touch you. Social media is a powerful thing. I want them to know me in some ways other than through a tweet, though. I will be out there. I will be visible," said Davenport.
Davenport said she is still working to learn more about some issues on campus.
Privatization is one of those issues. She said she's aware of it, but needs to learn more before picking a side.
“I was in conversations when I came here on the interviews. That’s certainly a topic that is a complicated one. I know about the opt out and I would want to exercise that option that we have. Leaders have a responsibility but that is something I certainly need to know more about and I’ll be learning more about that as we go," she said.
Bringing back the "Lady Vols" name is another one. Davenport recently had her first UT basketball experience and said it was humbling to stand where Pat Summitt once did.
“How powerful it was to stand on center court where Pat Summit had been. I grew up in the Pat Summitt era so it was such an honor. That’s one of those issues I simply don’t know enough about and people are passionate about it and I want to hear first hand what some of the issues are surrounding that," said Davenport.
Davenport's first day is done, but even before it began she said she already felt at home in Knoxville.
“I feel like I'm one of you. I know this part of the country.There is a synergy there. There is a familiarity there," she said.
Davenport said she hopes to finish out her career at UT and is very excited to be part of its progress.
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