Davenport shreds diversity

Victor Ashe
Government/Politics columnist

Those who had worried that the first female chancellor at UTK, Beverly Davenport, would be serious about diversity can rest easy based on her appointments to the first significant committee she named – the search committee for the new athletic director to replace Dave Hart. She shredded diversity with her six appointments.

The six include only one woman and no African-Americans, but two male trustees and the brother of a third trustee who is the chair of the UT board. Two are neighbors who live three houses apart on Lyons View Pike in West Knoxville on either side of the neglected historic UT-owned Williams House. The woman is Donna Thomas, who works for Hart and will help choose the person she will be working for.

Stunning that no African-American serves on this search effort given that a large number of the players for basketball and football are African-American. Women make up almost half of the total UT athletic program, not to mention the Title IX issues UT has paid millions to go away, but only one of the six is female and she has an acute conflict of interest.

The best-known member is obviously Peyton Manning. This past weekend he made news by speaking to the GOP Congressional meeting in Philadelphia, along with President Donald Trump. There are several well-known UT female athletes such as Candace Parker, Chamique Holdsclaw, Semeka Randall and Tamika Catchings who maintain ties to UTK and could serve along with Manning.

The truth is, Davenport’s committee includes members of great ability and significant achievements. They contribute to our civic society in many ways. But they have been placed in an unfortunate situation that could be resolved easily by expanding the committee. It does not look good when half of a committee are trustees or related to a trustee.

Two of these members helped recruit Derek Dooley to UT as football coach. We all know how well that worked out. Mistakes can be made, even by well-known, respected people.

What is also remarkable and exceptionally inconsistent about this committee is the obvious desire for the UT board of trustees to own it. On paper and in theory the campus athletic director reports to Chancellor Davenport. The board of trustees just approved her hiring as chancellor. No way she will turn down or even question the finalist this committee picks given who is on it.

New trustees are always told that they should not micromanage the university, just as the Legislature is told the same. However, here Davenport has basically turned over the hiring of the new AD to the people who run the board. Will she do the same when she names the search committee for a new provost?

So why did Davenport do this?

It is hard to come up with an answer on this. However, it is not too late to expand the search committee to give proper representation to all. Hopefully, UT will move to remedy this.

Bob Clement, former U.S. representative and TVA director, is out with a book on his life titled “Presidents, Kings and Convicts.” It starts with growing up in the Governor’s Residence. Not clear whether Clement will do a book signing here in Knoxville.

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