UT engineering dean made interim chancellor after Davenport's firing; reaction is positive

A day after University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro terminated University of Tennessee Chancellor Beverly Davenport, he announced that Wayne Davis will serve as interim chancellor.

Wayne Davis, dean of the Tickle College of Engineering at the University of Tennessee since 2008, is retiring at the end of the semester.

Davis, dean of the Tickle College of Engineering, has agreed to serve in the role for six months to one year and takes office on Monday, according to a news release from DiPietro.

Davis will turn 70 on May 21 and has postponed his retirement to take this role, according to DiPietro.

Postponing retirement

“Wayne Davis is a proven and respected University leader who has served the flagship campus in numerous capacities for more than four decades. As its dean, he has presided over a thriving Tickle College of Engineering, growing in enrollment, research productivity and achieving new heights of national recognition,” DiPietro said in the release.

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 “I greatly appreciate Wayne and his wife, Sylvia, postponing retirement to continue serving their alma mater during this critical time.

"It is always unsettling when there is a sudden change in a senior leadership position within the university, and this situation is no exception,” Davis said in the release. “The University of Tennessee holds a special place in my heart. As an alum, a faculty member and an administrator, I have been committed to this great University and its journey toward excellence for more than 45 years. I am deeply honored to be asked to serve in this interim role as the university identifies the next steps toward its search for a new chancellor.”

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Reaction positive to Davis' appointment

State Rep. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City, who has known Davis and his family for more than 30 years, said he was “thrilled” to learn he had been tapped for the role of interim chancellor.

“When we say our blood bleeds orange, they are the epitome of that because they love this town, they love this school and they are wonderful people,” said Matlock, who admits Davis is a friend and customer of his business and so he is “very biased.”

Matlock is confident that putting Davis at the helm “is the perfect bridge” between people who want to see the university move forward and the individuals who can make it happen, particularly now as UT must address some wounds.

“There has to be obviously a healing time and Wayne can do that,” Matlock said. “There has to be a return to the values of this land-grant university, which is what the legislature and the Lady Vol fans and everyone’s been screaming out for.”

While State Rep. Jason Zachary, R-Knoxville, doesn’t have personal ties to Davis, he’s confident the new leader can “provide a calming factor and just be a steadying force” on campus, which is what is needed right now.

Zachary said Davis’ extensive history with UT coupled with his passion for the institution and the fact he’s a Knoxvillian makes him the right person for the job at this time.

“I think he understands the values and principles that people hold dear in Knoxville."

He talked about the need for Davis to be a good listener as he steps into the interim chancellor role and to represent the UT’s values.

“As somebody who’s been there for decades, there’s no doubt he’ll do that,” Zachary said.

State Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, echoed Zachary in the university’s need for a temporary leader who can re-stabilize the campus.

“It’s been rocked and there’s just been all this change and I think if he can just keep people calm and focused on what the university’s supposed to be doing and not distracted, that’s probably what he needs to do,” said Dunn, R-Knoxville.

While Dunn also isn’t personally familiar with Davis, he said he brings the right leadership experience to the school’s top post and “he’s shown that he can run a department well.”

When asked about how the leadership transition will impact the school’s reputation, Dunn said he was “absolutely” in support of DiPietro’s decision to terminate Davenport, based on the sharp letter the president sent the former chancellor.

In that letter, DiPietro said Davenport lacked communication skills, business transactional skills, and, among a long list of other issues, had not acclimated to UT.

If the letter is accurate “and I have no doubt that it is,” Dunn said, it would have been “more detrimental to stay the course w/ the previous chancellor.”

Victor Ashe, a former longtime Knoxville mayor, described Davis as a strong choice for the interim role and said he should be commended for delaying his retirement for the sake of the university.

“We should all be appreciative that he’s postponed his retirement to pitch in,” Ashe said, adding “he knows the system, he knows the issues and he’s widely respected.”

Ashe recognized that six to 12 months won’t be long enough for Davis to accomplish very much outside of handling “immediate” and unexpected issues that pop up.

“You work on the weaknesses, which he would know better than others because he’s been a dean for many years,” said Ashe, who also applauded DiPietro for identifying a problem with leadership “and moving to resolve it.”

Ashe holds a lot of optimism for the university’s future, noting “our best days are still ahead of us.”

Davis' accomplishments, bio

Davis has served in faculty and administrative roles at UT for 44 years, including as assistant dean of the Graduate School from 1985 through 1988 and as its associate dean from 1988 through 1991. He became interim dean of the Tickle College of Engineering in 2008 before assuming the role permanently in 2009.

DiPietro listed several accomplishments of Davis', including enrollment growth of almost 2,000; near-doubling of doctoral enrollment and graduate rates; more than doubled endowment faculty positions supported by $19 million in gift funds; increase of 42 full-time faculty positions; and doubling of research expenditures to more than $70 million per year; and increase in partnerships and research with Oak Ridge National Laboratory and businesses throughout the state.

Both the number and quality of engineering students have increased during his tenure, according to DiPietro.

"Incoming freshmen have an average high school GPA of 4.05 and an average score ACT math score of 30.5. The percentage of women engineering students has increased from 16 percent to 21.4 percent—on par with the national average—and is poised to increase with this next incoming class of freshmen.

Additionally, Davis has received many accolades and honors, including UT Knoxville's highest faculty honor, University Macebearer.

Recently, the UT chapter of the Mortar Board National Honor Society and the Howard H. Baker Center for Public Policy recently honored Davis by having him deliver “The Last Lecture," according to UT news on the university's website.

Davis talked about growing up in small-town North Carolina and becoming a UT studentt n 1970, as well as the path that led him to becoming dean. Working several jobs that allowed him to save toward his goal, he was a paperboy, grocery stocker and construction worker.

He had said he aspired to be the first in his family to get a college degree..

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