Replacing University of Tennessee Chancellor Jimmy Cheek calls for a swift search and candidates who can maintain the momentum of UT’s successes, said UT President Joe DiPietro.
DiPietro announced Tuesday that Cheek, the leader of the flagship campus, will step down and return to teaching. Cheek will continue as chancellor until a successor is selected, which DiPietro called “best for the institution.”
The past academic year has been a whirlwind of controversy for Cheek and UT with uproars about Office for Diversity and Inclusion web posts and the removal of the Lady Vols nickname as well as a Title IX federal lawsuit alleging the university mishandles cases of sexual assault, especially when student athletes are accused.
But Cheek said those issues were “absolutely” not the reason he was stepping down. Instead, Cheek, who turns 70 in September, said it was about more time with his family, including four grandchildren.
He said his daughter Jennifer Armstrong brought up the question in February.
“She said, ‘Dad ,you’re working too much. You need to do something different,’ ” Cheek said. “And I said, ‘I’m not quite ready to retire.’ ”
That’s when his daughter suggested returning to the faculty — it’s less intense and less time- consuming, and urgent phone calls won’t pull him away from his grandchildren’s piano recitals.
Cheek said when he came to UT in February 2009 after a 34-year career at the University of Florida, he planned to stay in the role for three to five years. He has stayed nearly eight.
As of October, Cheek’s base salary was $447,492.
The chancellor’s announcement came after departure announcements by three of the nine members of his cabinet. Vice Chancellor for Communications Margie Nichols is retiring, and Provost Susan Martin is returning to her faculty role.
Former Vice Chancellor for Diversity Rickey Hall is leaving for a new role at the University of Washington, an announcement that came about the same time a bill passed by state lawmakers to pull funding from his office became law.
Cheek said Tuesday the searches to replace Nichols and Martin are suspended. His suggestion is to start the searches again once a chancellor is selected.
A search is expected to begin immediately after the Board of Trustees meetings on Wednesday and Thursday.
DiPietro said his goal is to begin preliminary interviews this summer and bring finalists on campus in the fall so he can make a recommendation to the trustees at the October meeting and have someone in place by the spring 2017 semester.
“We will scour the United States of America and beyond for the very finest candidates,” DiPietro said. “I hope that every candidate that we talk to says, ‘I can’t wait for them to offer me this job.’ ”
DiPietro has already contacted the UT Faculty Senate for recommendations of faculty to be on the search committee, said Bruce MacLennan, senate president.
MacLennan said faculty members will want to stress the importance of issues that include diversity and continuing teaching and research excellence.
Members of UT Diversity Matters, a coalition of mostly student groups, also plan to share their thoughts on a future chancellor with DiPietro and the trustees, said coalition member Johnathan Clayton, a UT senior.
He said he hopes UT leaders keep in mind there is a lot of diversity work to be done at UT.
When a new chancellor is in place, Cheek will start teaching educational leadership and higher education policy to mostly doctoral students.
He’ll be able to share practical experience with students interested in “getting it right from the horse’s mouth,” said Bob Rider, the dean of the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences.
The college is also where UT’s Center for Educational Leadership is based. Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre will lead that center starting Aug. 1.
Rider said having both men on staff means “great things” for the college.
For Cheek, the change will be all about time for his family and his students.
“These are 24-hour, every-day-of-the-week jobs,” he said of being chancellor. “You can do that for a certain period of time, but you can’t do that indefinitely.”