University of Tennessee System President Joe DiPietro announces retirement date

Monica Kast

University of Tennessee System President Joe DiPietro announced Monday morning that he will retire effective Feb. 14. 

University of Tennessee System President Joe DiPietro, who has been president since 2011, is retiring effective Feb. 14.

DiPietro, who has been president since 2011, will step down from active employment on Nov. 21 and use his remaining vacation time until February, according to a news release.

"I am very proud of all we have accomplished together, which would not have been possible without the important efforts of our talented faculty, students, staff and administrators and the steadfast support of the Board of Trustees,” DiPietro said in the release. “The University is well positioned for success — we are coming off a record-breaking year in research funding as well as private fundraising, and we have a committed group of chancellors and system administrators to move the University forward.”

As UT’s 25th president, DiPietro serves as the chief executive officer of all three UT campuses, the Health Science Center, the Institute of Public Service and the Institute of Agriculture.

His base salary is $539,011, and he is eligible for an annual 5 percent increase to his base pay, depending upon his job performance. His contract was set to end in June 2019.

In an interview with the News Sentinel, DiPietro said now was the best time for him to retire because of several changes in leadership coming, including the UT Board of Trustees, Tennessee General Assembly and governor. 

"It seemed in the best interest of the institution for them to select another person to do this job who would need all those important relationship development steps," DiPietro said. "I made it very clear to the board that I wasn't interested in extending my contract for June. So I thought it was best for me, that's the most important part, and I thought it was best for the institution too."

University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro stands in his office Monday morning. DiPietro will end active employment Nov. 21 and officially retire Feb. 14.

UT Board of Trustees Chairman John Compton, in a statement in the release, praised DiPietro for his time as president.

“We should all be thankful for Joe’s leadership,” Compton said. “He and the former Board of Trustees accomplished a great deal together. All stakeholders in the University system have been well-served by his tireless commitment to continual improvement across all of our campuses.”

Next steps to be discussed soon

Compton added that the Board of Trustees will meet soon to “discuss the next steps in selecting” the next president.

During DiPietro’s time as president, UT has seen “a record four years of low tuition increases,” including a tuition freeze at UT Knoxville and UT Chattanooga this year. There was also a record set for spending in sponsored programs in 2017, as well as a record fundraising year of more than $397 million given during the 2017-2018 fiscal year.

University of Tennessee System President Joe DiPietro will retire effective Feb. 14. He plans to retire in Illinois with his wife, Deb. He said he wants to "focus on family" and spend time with his three children and six grandchildren.

DiPietro also established the Budget Advisory Group, which helped address a predicted $377 million budget shortfall. DiPietro said eliminating that budget shortfall was what he was most proud of during his time at UT. 

“It was important for me to leave the university in good financial shape, and now thanks to hard work by faculty, staff and the Board of Trustees as well as increases in state appropriations for the last seven consecutive years by the governor and legislature, we are,” DiPietro said.

DiPietro also said he was proud of the improved graduation rate and academic profile of UT. 

"We're graduating more people more quickly all the time," DiPietro said. 

DiPietro also has faced challenges in his time as president, including turnover in the athletic department. Former Athletic Director John Currie was fired and Phillip Fulmer was hired in his place. DiPietro said Fulmer has helped stabilize the athletic department at UT. 

"I think we're in a really good place right now," DiPietro said. 

DiPietro also dealt with the loss of state funding for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. DiPietro said he saw the loss of funding as "a completion issue," in which students would not complete their degree if they didn't feel welcome at the university. 

"We're trying to manage the best we can," DiPietro said. 

Donations in his honor can be made to the new Joe and Deb DiPietro Endowment for Leadership Development, which will provide support and assistance to UT employees who want to develop leadership skills. The endowment will fund the Executive Leadership Institute, which will provide scholarships for participants and begin this fall. DiPietro plans to teach part time at the institute.

University of Tennessee System President Joe DiPietro stands in his office, holding a jar of worms that he used during his time researching parasites. DiPietro will retire on Feb. 14, 2019.

DiPietro said the idea for this institute came from his background in administration in higher education.

"I felt like I had to become a student of leadership," DiPietro said of his early days in administration. 

The Executive Leadership Institute will start with a cohort of 20 participants from the UT System who will meet six times throughout the year. The goal is to "take people with incredible potential," teach them about leadership and partner them with mentors, and then "put them in spots of leadership" at UT, DiPietro said. 

DiPietro plans to retire in Illinois with his wife, Deb. He said he wants to "focus on family" and spend time with his three children and six grandchildren. 

DiPietro said he is looking forward to "taking some time off" after 22 years in higher education administration, and would like to build a second grandfather clock for his daughters. 

"It's been a distinct privilege to have this job," DiPietro said. "While I was not born a Tennessean, I'll forever love the University of Tennessee."

Other top open positions

The university has several leadership positions open. DiPietro fired Beverly Davenport from her role as chancellor, and Wayne Davis was appointed as interim chancellor until such time as a permanent chancellor is hired.

Additionally, the vice president of human resources position is still open, after the university suspended its search, and the vice chancellor for communications job is also open after Ryan Robinson's departure weeks after Davenport's termination.