UT Knoxville Chancellor Beverly Davenport shared a message of hope and kindness after being formally welcomed as the campus’ top leader.
Higher education and community leaders along with faculty, staff, and students celebrated the event, held Friday afternoon in the Cox Auditorium of the Alumni Memorial Building.
After being introduced by her son, Ford Sypher, Davenport emphasized what sets the university apart from others in a competitive marketplace.
“When others are struggling to differentiate themselves from the 4,000 other universities in this country, who will we be? First, we will be the campus that stands up for each other.
“We will be kind. We will be welcoming. We will be civil. We will wait out the naysayers,” she said. “We will not back down or close our eyes or our hearts to bigotry or racism or hatred or fascism. There is no place for injustice at the University of Tennessee. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’”
Davenport stressed the need for campus-wide civil and respectful debate.
“We will open our campus to honest and informed intellectual debate—the fundamental hallmark of higher learning that teaches our students how to think critically and what to think about, whether it is the economy, taxes, scientific discoveries, health care, education, affordable housing, food scarcity, clean air, water, and more. But never is it our position to tell students what to think. These are positions for which they are to wrestle,” said Davenport.
Davenport noted the challenges happening across the nation and the world.
“The nation is divided. Our communities are divided. The world is divided. But education, and higher education specifically, remains the surest path to solving the world’s grand challenges. It remains the surest path to social mobility,” she said.
The ceremony featured the UT Singers and the UT Chamber Singers. It concluded with a stirring rendition of one of Davenport’s favorite songs, “Rise Up,” a rhythm and blues song first released by singer Andra Day.
UT System President Joe DiPietro and UT Trustee Sharon Pryse presented Davenport with the chancellor’s medallion, ceremoniously marking her installation as the eighth chancellor of UT’s flagship campus.
DiPietro said solid leadership is critical for fulfilling the university’s evolving mission.
“We do more at the University of Tennessee than just educate the next generation, make breakthrough discoveries, or connect with people across the state through outreach.
“As a result of our efforts to educate, discover, and connect, mentors are found, role models are met, and aspirations are revealed,” DiPietro said. “We change the lives of others, sometimes even the very direction of those lives. Because we were inspired to be more, we understand others can be more, and we seek to inspire them.”
Davenport said the university is well positioned to tackle grand challenges that impact so many people. Read the full investiture speech.
“Rural problems are often the same as urban problems: access to quality and affordable health care, educational equity, living wage jobs, opioid addiction, human trafficking, multigenerational poverty, affordable housing, attracting talent to our region, keeping our water and mountains safe,” she said.
“These are our cities’ problems, our state’s problems, and our nation’s problems. These are problems the University of Tennessee is working to solve. We must and we will be a part of the solutions. And on many levels, we already are.”
Twenty-three universities either sent representatives to be a part of the processional or designated UT faculty who earned their degrees from their institution to be part of the ceremony.
Among them were Harvard University, Columbia University, the University of Georgia, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Cincinnati, Indiana University, George Washington University, the University of Iowa, the University of Florida, the University of Kansas, the University of Kentucky, Purdue University, Virginia Tech, Vanderbilt University, and Western Kentucky University.