The Politics of the UT President's Office Space

As he takes office as university president, among the questions confronting Dr. Joe DiPietro is: Where exactly should that office be?

For the moment, like his predecessors, DiPietro is ensconced on the top floor of Andy Holt Tower, in the middle of the Knoxville campus. But there has been a lot of discussion in recent years about moving those quarters. It is a mostly symbolic issue, but one that illustrates the political delicacies of the UT presidency. From the viewpoint of UT’s other campuses, institutes, and offices, the Andy Holt location would seem to give an elevated stature to Knoxville. But from the viewpoint of the Knoxville campus, the proximity of the system leadership creates plenty of potential for conflict. The campus is officially under the authority of the Knoxville chancellor, whose office is just three floors below the president’s. But more than one chancellor has bristled at what they saw as undue interference from a micromanaging president. It was such a clash that led to the back-to-back departures of Chancellor Loren Crabtree and President John Petersen.

Those roles have been more stringently clarified in the last few years, and DiPietro and Chancellor Jimmy Cheek promise that they’ll be able to work well together. But some observers still think it would be best for everyone if the president were located off-campus, maybe even downtown.

Warren Neel, the former head of UT’s business school and author of the memoir The Accidental Dean, says, “They’ve got to move in order to give the campus the participatory democracy that is one element of an academic community.”

DiPietro says he understands the concerns and isn’t personally wedded to Andy Holt Tower. But he’s not sure it’s a pressing issue, given UT’s other priorities.

“From time to time, is there tension? Yeah,” he says. “But more years than not, it’s been fine. I know there’s a lot of symbolism around it that people focus on. If the system’s operated properly, and interacting properly with the campuses, I don’t know if the symbolism will outweigh the use of money [to relocate]. I’m not against it. But I don’t have any plans to announce that we’re doing it.”

—J.F.M.

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