NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The University of Tennessee’s Board of Trustees on Thursday unanimously approved the appointment of Beverly Davenport as the first female chancellor of the public university system’s flagship campus in Knoxville.
Davenport, interim president of the University of Cincinnati, said she doesn’t want to be defined by becoming the first woman to head the university.
“I don’t think a lot about being a first,” she said. “I’m so proud that this is a university that has the confidence in me, but I believe they have the confidence in me because of what I’ve done.”
Among her earliest responsibilities will be to name a provost, the school’s chief academic officer, and a new athletic director. Davenport said she welcomes the chance to influence campus leadership.
“I can’t wait to get started on filing out the Cabinet,” she said. “What a great opportunity to come into a job and find out that you get to choose a large part of your team.”
Davenport will replace Jimmy Cheek, who announced last June that he was stepping down to return to teaching. Cheek had been chancellor since 2009.
The university has been targeted by conservative state lawmakers in recent years over diversity initiatives on campus and an annual student-run “Sex Week” event. Davenport said interacting with lawmakers is part of the job of administrators at public colleges and universities.
“Every state legislature is looking at a whole agenda of issues that have a bearing on what’s going to happen on college campus,” she said. “It is part of the work we do. We are public employees, we do our work in public places and on public land.
“We invite people to be part of our conversation,” she said.
The school in July settled a lawsuit for $2.5 million that had been filed by eight women who said the university fostered a hostile sexual environment through a policy of indifference toward assault complaints against athletes.
“We have a federal responsibility — it’s federal law — to protect our students,” Davenport said. “So we are doing everything we can, and that comes from trying to educate, to create a consent culture, to protect our students and protect them from harm.”
“This is serious, important work,” she said. “And it takes resources and trained people to do the work.”
Joe DiPietro, the president of the University of Tennessee system, said that the schools’ run-ins with the state Legislature did not hurt recruiting efforts.
“There might be some states where it’s easier, but the majority of them pretty much in our game from the standpoint of their interaction with the General Assembly and the General Assembly wanting information from their president or their chancellor,” he said.
The board approved DiPietro’s recommendation for Davenport to earn a base salary of $585,000 per year, plus housing, expenses and potential performance bonus of up to 15 percent.
Davenport will become the school’s chancellor on Feb. 15 and be granted tenure as a professor at UT’s school of communication.
Davenport earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Western Kentucky and her doctorate from Michigan.