The August 2007 issuance of a University Mission Statement and the subsequent issuance of a document setting forth organizational responsibilities touched off expressions of long-standing dissatisfaction with the UT system’s increasing assumption of responsibilities that on other flagship campuses within university systems were the responsibility of the campus. Chief among the issues were the continued control of UT Athletics by the system administration, control and management of the Cherokee Farm, control and management of IT functions, the authority of the chancellor, and the failure of President Petersen to consult or communicate with the Faculty Senate. The possibility of issuing a vote of no confidence first surfaced in the Executive Committee meeting of January 14, 2008, but was delayed until the senate’s special meeting with the president on January 22. The full senate brought the topic back up at its meeting of January 28 but delayed a vote until after a February 22 special meeting of the Executive Committee with Petersen.
In the interim a survey was issued by the senate to gauge faculty opinion on the “ousting” of Chancellor Crabtree, as well as faculty opinions on Petersen’s vision for UT. Responses totaling 1,021 were received from UT Knoxville faculty, Institute of Agriculture faculty, ORNL, and the Space Institute. Sixty-nine percent of respondents gave an unfavorable opinion on Petersen’s performance, 13 percent remained neutral, and 18 percent had a favorable opinion. The vote showed that UT Knoxville faculty generally had low opinions of Petersen, while 50 percent of the Institute of Agriculture faculty gave him a favorable rating.
Responding to the survey in a Daily Beacon interview, Petersen attacked its methodology and called it an “are you still kicking your dog” survey. He also denied that Crabtree was forced to resign. Petersen said, “He was given a choice, in terms of what he needed to do. . . . We weren’t going to change the organizational structure.” He also indicated that he believed he had the confidence and support of the board of trustees.
Petersen met with the Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate on February 22 in an attempt to begin to increase communications between the campus and system administration. He indicated his willingness to engage in ad hoc meetings with faculty and said that he planned to appoint a vice president for human relations and an interim chief information officer to manage system and campus information technology issues.
Senate President David Patterson recommended to the senate at its February 24 meeting that the senate abstain from taking a “no confidence” vote in the immediate future.