EXCLUSIVE: Beverly Davenport says she's confident in UC's future

Knoxville move is a homecoming for Davenport

CINCINNATI -- University of Tennessee Knoxville made Beverly Davenport an offer she couldn't refuse.

University of Cincinnati's interim president was in the running to become UC's permanent president, but UT's firm offer to run its flagship campus as chancellor was too promising to turn down.

"Tennessee was aggressive, and UC was still in its search process," she told WCPO in her first interview since announcing her departure.

Davenport will remain UC's interim president through January 2017 to help smooth the transition to what will either be a new interim president or a new permanent president, depending on how quickly the search committee makes its pick.

UC Board of Trustees Chairman Robert Richardson Jr. declined to detail the status of the search, but said the board hopes to name a new permanent president in early 2017.

Davenport heads south to Knoxville, which aspires to become a top-tier research institution. Much like UC, UT Knoxville has been on an upward trajectory with rising graduation rates, ACT and SAT test scores, among other measures of student success.

It's also a homecoming for Davenport.

"All my family lives in Tennessee, and they're just thrilled. My mother, my nieces and nephews, two brothers and a sister are in Nashville," she said. "To make your family proud, it's a moment in one's life when you feel enormously proud."

Rapid leadership change

Davenport's departure marks the second president to resign in six months; Santa Ono left in June to become president of University of British Columbia.

Davenport sought to assure the UC community that the institution will thrive despite the leadership changes.

"Organizations are resilient in spite of themselves. There is a large group of leaders who propel this place forward. My accomplishments and those of (Ono) didn't happen because of us alone," she said. "People we hired and those who were here before us are still here and they will move UC forward."

Davenport came to UC in June 2013 as chief academic officer and provost, the second-ranking administrator. She said Tuesday that she had planned to stay for five years, but circumstances led her down a different path.

In fact, she said she was a finalist to lead another university that she declined to name when she opted for the UT chancellorship.

Leaving a legacy

Davenport said she's proud of the quality and diversity of faculty UC hired under her leadership, including a $60 million Cluster Hiring Initiative, a Strategic Hiring Opportunity Program and a Dual Career Assistance Program that encouraged couples who are both college professors to move to UC.

She's also pleased with continued academic success of students, with graduation rates ticking up another 2 percent this year.

A partnership with Hughes STEM High School -- a Cincinnati Public School that's adjacent to UC's main campus -- is expanding to bring students as young as seventh graders to participate in a summer program that helps encourage them to aspire to a college education.

Race relations

Davenport was provost in July 2015 when Ray Tensing, then a UC police officer, shot and killed an unarmed driver during a routine traffic stop, during a summer when police shootings of unarmed black citizens were already in the national spotlight.

In the aftermath as interim president, Davenport worked to heal divisions, including investing $1.6 million in reforms demanded by the Irate 8, a UC group that decried racism on campus.

UC was able to accommodate all of the group's demands except for the firing of two of Tensing's fellow officers who arrived on the scene after the shooting.

She hopes UC continues to aggressively pursue drawing more CPS graduates into UC as one means to combat persistent poverty and inequity in the city, especially among African-Americans.

"Great cities need great universities," she said. "We are the only research university in this city. UC needs to be more city-facing, to take more seriously our urban-facing mission."

A UC fan for life

She leaves UC with warm memories and optimism for the institution's trajectory. She cited a colleague's experience talking to a wheelchair-bound student. When asked why the student would choose a sprawling, hilly campus, the student said, "Because I wanted to climb."

"There is some tenacity and resilience here that makes it greater than any one person," she said. "We've all just got to be on that journey with it. It is exhilarating."

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