UT President DiPietro says Davenport firing was not personal, interim chancellor to earn $45.8K per month

UT President Joe DiPietro on Monday said he's not planning to set a retirement date until after the new board of trustees meets this summer, and said his decision to fire Chancellor Beverly Davenport was not personal.

From left, Joe DiPietro, president of the University of Tennessee, and interim chancellor Wayne Davis are greeted by Victor Ashe on Monday, May 7, 2018.

DiPietro made the remarks in a question-and-answer session with media following his introduction of Wayne Davis, who is taking over as interim chancellor.

Davis, who was set to retire from his role as dean of the Tickle College of Engineering, said he's humbled and honored to be asked to serve in the interim chancellor role for a year.

DiPietro appointed Davis interim on Thursday, a day after firing the institution's first female chancellor, Davenport, a little more than a year into her leadership.

$45,833-per-month salary, plus $3,332 per month for expenses

University of Tennessee interim chancellor Wayne Davis arrives for a news conference on Monday, May 7, 2018 at Tyson Alumni House.

While Davenport became the highest-paid chancellor in UT’s history with a base salary of $585,000, Davis will be compensated $45,833 monthly, which equates to $550,000 annually, with $1,666 per month as a non-accountable expense allowance and an additional $1,666 per month for housing allowances, according to an offer letter he received from DiPietro.

DiPietro said he appreciates Davis stepping up at at time when he's needed.

Plus: "Every now and then he'll smile and tell you a good joke."

Davis said he was born in Orange County, and graduated Orange County High School, in North Carolina.

"My life started with orange."

Davis talked about his long career at the university and his commitment to UT. He called himself "extremely student-oriented."

"I was truly going to retire and I was looking forward to it," he said, to laughter. But, when asked to fill the role, he said he knew he could help move the university through the process of a search for a new chancellor.

Additionally, Davis said Davenport did implement some programs he intends to keep, including online learning programs.

DiPietro on Davenport's termination, his own retirement

Dean Wayne Davis shows off the largest classroom in the new Min Kao Electrical Engineering and Computer science building Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2011 during a tour. The new six-story building will gave a tour of the new building will be filled to capacity as soon as it opens.

DiPietro notified Davenport of her termination in a letter detailing what he viewed as shortcomings she hadn't made an effort to improve upon, including sour relations with him and some members of his leadership team, "very poor" communication skills and "lack of organization."

On Monday DiPietro said the decision to terminate Davenport was not personal and over the course of a year, he met with her frequently to outline the problems.

Joe DiPietro, president of the University of Tennessee during a news conference on Monday, May 7, 2018.

Her personnel file was devoid of any criticism because the file is not covered under the public records law in Tennessee, he said, in response to a media question.

He called her termination " a very unpleasant decision."

Read:Davenport's scathing termination letter from the UT president

DiPietro said it was important to him to not have the performance issues passed along to anyone else to handle and said the letter he wrote to Davenport stands for itself.

Davenport is being given the opportunity to stay on campus as a tenured communications professor and will earn $1.75 million for four years of work before then earning an "average" professor's salary from the fifth year forward.

When asked if, given her communications issues, Davenport would serve in a faculty role, the president said he did expect she would do so. And he lauded her previous experience as a faculty member.

More:Gov. Haslam won't be next UT President when DiPietro retires, supports Davenport firing

DiPietro said it's prudent to not set a date for his retirement until the new board of trustees meets. The board doesn't convene until July 1. 

DiPietro said the decision Davenport made to not outsource facilities is likely to stand, as he always said he'd stand by that decision.

UT Chancellor Beverly Davenport spent her first morning on the job Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017 talking to students and media.

Davis' experience, accomplishments

A UT alum, Davis took over the interim post on Monday after serving as dean of the Tickle College of Engineering and has committed to the helm of the university for up to one year.

More:Wayne Davis offer letter

Davis, who has been part of the faculty and administration at UT for 44 years, will turn 70 on May 21 and has postponed his retirement to take this role, according to DiPietro.

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

On top of his position as engineering dean, Wayne served 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 taking over the role permanently in 2009.

Included in his list of academic accomplishments is 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.

Among the awards he's earned is UT Knoxville's highest faculty honor, University Macebearer.

DiPietro's decision to put Davis in charge until the university secures a permanent chancellor was praised by local lawmakers, who noted his higher education experience and passion for UT will be a boon for the school's time of transition.

More:How might firing of UT Chancellor Beverly Davenport affect Vols football, Jeremy Pruitt?

Plan to move 'in a very positive direction'

As Davis takes over leadership of the school, he acknowledged he’ll be steering the school through a circumstance that is “maybe traumatic” but said he wants to focus in large part on celebrating the next graduating class as commencement celebrations take place this week.

He also has scheduled to attend meetings previously planned by Davenport, a meet with students and getting to know the “wonderful staff” in the chancellor’s cabinet, all of whom he already knows and met with Monday morning.

Eyeing the next six to 12 months, he aims to “keep the university moving in a very positive direction,” particularly as UT Knoxville experiences a burst of student enrollment growth — more than 7 percent.

The new leader realizes he will have to serve as stabilizing force for the university in the wake of student rallies against Davenport’s dismissal and a flurry of questions as to what ultimately propelled her exit.

“I believe in listening,” Davis said. “I also believe in supporting students."

Ask engineer students about him, he added, and they’d say while he’s not with them every day, “his heart is there.”

“It’s about the university's mission that we need to focus on," DiPietro said in moving forward, touting the strength of the university system's performance overall with specifics like low tuition and amplified outreach efforts.

You'd likely have to go back 20 years to find the system operating this well collectively, he said, adding, "Knoxville is a big part of that."

In pinpointing a new chancellor, DiPietro highlighted the need for someone who brings “honesty, integrity, proven leadership (and the) ability to motivate people” to the table.

The university is getting ready to put together a job description as it gets underway with a search.