insights (2005-50)

UT Will Miss Anne Mayhew

Serving as a senior administrator at UT over much of the past decade has in many ways been a thankless job. Revolving door presidencies, recurrent budgetary binds and faculty unrest have all contributed to an aura of instability and even intractability during much of this period.

One person who gets almost universal acclaim for having helped make the best of the situation during these worst of times is Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Anne Mayhew. Thus, her announcement last week that she plans to retire next August, at age 69, is an occasion for recognition of her accomplishments, many of which are obscured by the fact that they involved just keeping things on an even keel.

When Mayhew assumed her present post in 2000 it was anything but clear that UT could avert dire straits on several fronts. On the one hand, there was a near void of administrative leadership on the Knoxville campus resulting from errors of commission and omission by then ill-fated President J. Wade Gilley. On another, UT’s athletic program was facing an incipient scandal stemming from charges by a vindictive English professor that tutors for several football players had written papers for them and otherwise corrupted the university’s academic integrity.

While Mayhew has accomplished a lot of other things during her 37 years at UT, both as a faculty member and then an administrator, the way in which she dealt with those two concurrent challenges was perhaps her finest hour.

To understand the near void that Mayhew stepped in to fill requires a recap of the decimation that occurred after Gilley assumed the presidency in 1999. For starters, Gilley eliminated the position of chancellor of the Knoxville campus and was seemingly bent on eliminating its separate identity through a consolidation with the Health Sciences Center in Memphis under his singular command. The man he deposed as chancellor, Bill Snyder, was nearing retirement anyway, and Snyder’s heir apparent, John Peters, stayed on in the lesser post of provost—but only for a matter of months before accepting the presidency of Northern Illinois University. Gilley by this time had alienated most of the Knoxville faculty with his restructuring, his overbearing style and his disdain for the concept of shared governance that was the mantra of the faculty senate.

The search for a permanent successor to Peters would take more than a year, and into this breech stepped two relatively unproven administrators: Clif Woods, as interim provost, and Mayhew as vice provost for academic affairs. It was Mayhew for the most part, though, to whom deans and department heads looked for decisions on a host of budgetary, curriculum, faculty appointment and other issues. At the same time, Mayhew had to deal with a restive faculty that harbored a lot of apprehension about the university’s future.

“I don’t know how on earth she endured everything she had to contend with. But she stayed the course and stabilized a ship that could have foundered,” says a former senior administrator who by then was in retirement.

Another treacherous course through which Mayhew did the steering was an investigation by the National Collegiate Athletic Association of alleged improprieties in UT’s tutoring program for athletes. Charges of ghost written term papers and other abuses made by English professor Linda Bensel-Meyers had become the subject of much muckraking by ESPN.com and could have resulted in severe N.C.A.A. sanctions.

Even as she was shouldering all of the other responsibilities discussed above, Gilley named Mayhew as the university’s N.C.A.A. faculty representative and its point person in the investigation’s conduct. The N.C.A.A. eventually absolved UT of any wrongdoing. But to safeguard the integrity of the tutoring program in the future it was removed from the Athletic Department’s domain and placed under Mayhew’s preview. She, in turn, named another seasoned academic administrator, Ruth Darling, as director of the Thornton Center where student athletes get not only tutoring but also mentoring.

When Loren Crabtree came on board as provost in mid-2001, he quickly made Mayhew his right hand person. As he has progressed to the restored position of chancellor so has she to be vice chancellor for academic affairs. Since Mayhew is by no means given to tooting her own horn, she pauses when asked about her accomplishments but finally allows, “I believe the thing I’m most proud of is trying to match our offerings with the students that are coming in, that we have enough courses and courses of sufficiently high quality to serve them well.” As a concomitant to that, she stresses her role in, “trying to recognize the excellence that exists within the university and trying to make sure that the people who are doing excellent work get the recognition they deserve.”

With budgetary constraints impinging at every turn, not all of Mayhew’s initiatives have come to fruition yet. One is a more robust university honors program that would attract and nurture top students. Another is a Student Success Center, now in embryonic form, that “will do for all students something like what the Thornton Center can do for student athletes.”

With Crabtree now firmly at the helm of the Knoxville campus and stability restored to the UT presidency as well, Mayhew’s departure won’t be as upsetting as it would have if she’d left during UT’s time of deepest troubles five years ago. But she still will be much missed.

© 2005 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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