Incident involving UT president's wife mars social event

Carol Petersen restricted from contacting donors, staff

Carol Petersen

Carol Petersen

It started as a reception honoring the accomplishments of the Alliance of Women Philanthropists at University of Tennessee President John Petersen's home. It ended with verbal attacks, tears and yelling, according to a report by UT development personnel.

As a result, Petersen's wife, Carol, has been banned from all contact with UT donors and staff members after a confrontation that humiliated a key volunteer and reportedly ended with Carol Petersen yelling at her husband, documents state.

Jim Murphy, vice chairman of the UT board of trustees, established the restrictions in a Nov. 7 letter to President Petersen that followed "several conversations" between the men in late October, after the incident at the president's residence on Cherokee Boulevard.

"As an initial response to this situation, we have agreed that you and Carol will develop a plan to provide me with some assurance that instances like this will not happen in the future," Murphy wrote. "We have also agreed that until I receive and approve this plan, Carol will avoid any contact with university donors and staff (other than staff at the residence)."

The incident that triggered the ban occurred Oct. 17 between Carol Petersen and Laura Morris, who resigned as chair of the Alliance of Women Philanthropists three days later.

The Alliance of Women Philanthropists includes all women who have given or directed $25,000 or more to any UT program and whose mission is to "educate, empower, and inspire women to be philanthropic leaders" at UT, according to the alliance's Web site.

In her resignation letter to Murphy, Morris said she was stepping down as "a direct result" of a conversation with Carol Petersen after an alliance social event.

"It is with great sadness that I resign my position and choose to avoid further personal humiliation as my husband and I evaluate and withdraw many of our commitments to an institution that I tried to serve wisely and well," wrote Morris, who lives in Franklin.

A report by development personnel states that Morris and Carol Petersen were thanking guests as they departed around 8 p.m. when "Carol confronted Laura and informed her that she 'disapproved of your paw print,' " an apparent reference to a fundraising idea discussed by the Alliance of Women Philanthropists board earlier that day.

"Carol told Laura that she was too 'Knoxville-centric' and that she disapproved of the leadership she provided to the alliance board," development director Suzy Garner and director of development programs Kathleen Callen wrote in a memo documenting the incident.

"The verbal attack continued despite our attempts to diffuse the situation. Laura was in tears by the end of the exchange, but there was no apology made to Laura by Carol although Carol asked for Laura to hug her as a sign of 'no hard feelings.' "

The development officials escorted Morris outside and "heard Carol yelling at John and referring to 'those people.' We all left the premises immediately."

Morris' letter to Murphy does not detail her interaction with Carol Petersen, but Morris did write, "There has been no misunderstanding on my part regarding this situation. The content and intensity of the remarks made to me leave no doubt about the personal nature underlying them.

"I do not understand in any way the basis for these feelings and in my opinion they are undeserved."

Gov. Phil Bredesen, the ex-officio chairman of the board, issued the following statement: "Gov. Bredesen is aware of the situation and believes it is appropriate that the executive committee of the board continue to handle the matter."

UT's vice president for public and government relations, Hank Dye, issued a statement calling the situation "unfortunate and regrettable." It continued, "The Petersens accept responsibility for all guest experiences in their home and regret anything deemed unpleasant."

Dye's statement says an apology has been extended to Morris and her husband, Steve.

UT's development Web site lists Morris and her husband Steve as 1794 Society members, which recognizes contributors whose cumulative giving exceeds $5 million. In April, the couple established scholarship funds in their names, according to a press release.

In her resignation letter, Morris detailed her work with the Alliance of Women Philanthropists, calling her role as chair "the most rewarding and enjoyable volunteer experience that I have ever had."

Chloe White may be reached at 865-342-6341.

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Comments » 150

shoalcreekvol writes:

OMG. OMG. It seems we become more "Tuscaloosa" every day.

Hey KNS: Thanks for serving this up on GVX - a "SPORTS website.

bluetickhoundguy writes:

Typical... A woman who never accomplished anything on her own thinks she can talk to people however she wants because her husband is the president... I don't know where she's from originally but down South you just don't invite someone to your house, turn around and treat 'em like dog doo-doo.... It ain't right.

Volumni writes:

What is her buyout number? Catfight in Knoxvegas! Saucer of milk, table two.....rarrrrrr!

Madkels writes:

Get out a pair of bikini's and a pool of jello!

ColumbusVol writes:

Somehow I feel that this may not be Fulmer's fault.

richvol writes:

Mrs. Petersen was not hired to be the president of the University and needs to realize her place in the scheme of things. Her comments show a lack of respect and disdain for this part of the country and it's people.

If Mr. Petersen can't control his wife and is not in charge in his own home then he certainly is not qualified to run a statewide university.

There was another incident earlier in his tenure where he alienated the entire teaching faculty.

bluetickhoundguy writes:

in response to Madkels:

Get out a pair of bikini's and a pool of jello!

Judging from the photo of Mrs. Peterson all I can say is "Ewwwwwwwww!!!"

pdhuff#552644 writes:

She's not kin to anyone connected to the coaching staff, is she?

Kinda favors and acts like my 1st wife when the Chablis took hold.

nicksjuzunk#646117 writes:

John Adams was lurking in the shadows with a Spam and Sauerkraut sandwich.

bluetickhoundguy writes:

It's really not funny... All the catfight comments... What Mrs. Peterson has done is despicable... Out of pettiness, jealousy or both she has humiliated a lady who has done nothing other than donate time, effort and money (in large quantities of each) and in the process further embarrassed a University that is already reeling over a disastrous football season, subsequent coaching turmoil and all the collateral damage that goes along with it... Way to go Mrs Peterson... By the way, if you live and work in Knoxville and support a University that is located in Knoxville wouldn't being "Knoxville-centric" be a GOOD thing??

zqvol writes:

What does this have to do with sports?

serenehunter#668900 writes:

president's wife's rumored comment "Have it your way I'll not come to no donor parties na'more. I'm not no phony like all y'all high faloot'in jackasses Hey I gradiated from Collitch too don't ferget. I'll tell ya what .I'll whip the tar out of ever one a you"

dwolfcreek#397971 writes:


xvolx writes:

I'd just like to say this about that.

kdaaron#423958 writes:

Things like this never happened when we had Joe Johnson or other good TENNESSEE folks running the place. We got some yankees to run the joint and look at what we got. The football problems are just a tiny part of the huge problems at UT. The place is literally falling apart. The ritzy folks from Franklin aka Brentwood start cutting off the Ben Franklins and we are in real trouble. Not 24% tuition hike, but 48% hikes.

burpee_von_rotweiler_IV writes:

in response to zqvol:

What does this have to do with sports?

I have a theory:

I have been particularly critical of Phil Fulmer's performance the past couple of seasons. I still feel he no longer has what it takes in the new era of college football.

However I will concede that Fulmer as UT president is an intriguing idea.

Of course he does not have the traditional qualifications one expects of a leader of a university such as doctoral degree or putting in his dues climbing the academic food chain.

But he does have other desirable "soft" qualities: conservative, fair, loyal, integrity, has strong UT roots as a graduate and student parent, gets along well with everyone at UT, consensus builder, well connected to the donor network, etc. He has paid his dues in another pathway.

As wild as it sounds, I could get behind Fulmer as UT president. Maybe this has been the plan all along.

The real reason UT got rid of Schumaker was because he disobeyed "orders" from the "secret circle" and went looking for someone besides Hamilton for AD. Those really in charge knew he was a big spender but didn't care until they wanted shed of him. All the information leaked to the press about his lavish spending was merely the mechanism used to railroad him out because he disobeyed orders from "high command."

Although disruptive behavior problems were long known about the current UT first lady, I really suspect the "secret circle" is once again using the media and court of public opinion to effect change in the presidents office.

That's my conspiracy theory and I'm sticking to it.

RockyTop1_old writes:

in response to Scotty_Hopson32:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Bluetick...did you mean a "less EXPEN$IVE" model? Just inquiring minds want to know...

cjraney writes:

Seriously, who is more important to the university, $5 mil donors or Peterson and his wife?

Get the crazy outta here.

Laydbakvol writes:

Fire Mike Hamilton!

bluetickhoundguy writes:

I gotta agree with sbcheek.... You'd NEVER see Vicky Fulmer getting all red in the face with a donor like that. Fulmer would make a fabulous President. The way he's handled the Bama situation and now his ouster as HC at UT has demonstrated nothing but class.

scottmichaelmoore#540590 writes:

THIS is why I love East Tennessee...we can take any ole yankee gal and make her a crazy drunk at a kegger without even trying...

Can I get a hug??

bluetickhoundguy writes:

I'll bet the folks at Clemson and UConn were glad to see her go... It's funny (well... funny may not be the right word...) to read the UT Alumnus magazine from 2004:

VolMoment writes:

in response to serenehunter#668900:

president's wife's rumored comment "Have it your way I'll not come to no donor parties na'more. I'm not no phony like all y'all high faloot'in jackasses Hey I gradiated from Collitch too don't ferget. I'll tell ya what .I'll whip the tar out of ever one a you"

Here we go, making up something and calling it a rumor. America is lost in negativism! Rumors have become a way of life yet rumors are just classified "lies".
Also why is this on the sports page. Oh I know dumb John Adams does not know what is sports and what is not. I wish the KNS had an A.D. and john would have been gone long time ago.

volcanic writes:

Who was responsible for the vetting president and his wife?

VolFaninTriCities writes:

Just another episode on "As the Hill Turns".

burpee_von_rotweiler_IV writes:

in response to bluetickhoundguy:

I'll bet the folks at Clemson and UConn were glad to see her go... It's funny (well... funny may not be the right word...) to read the UT Alumnus magazine from 2004:

Funny is the right word because I laughed when I read all the ironic statements in the article. Thanks for the link.

Stinger3 writes:

Can she block?

T_Henrys_Child_No9 writes:

Is that a mug shot? She looks like a real nut job.

volboy81 writes:

sounds like Carol Peterson thinks hers dont stink. Let me assure you, Carol, it does! We have the same knack for choosing presidents at UT as Bama has in choosing football coaches! Can we not get some class back at the top at UT, like it was with Edward and Mrs. Boling and Joe and Pat Johnson!

bluetickhoundguy writes:

This wasn't a "catfight"... It was an outright attack on a woman who is highly educated and motivated to do good work in a community (and for a university) she and her husband obviously care deeply for. On the sidebar click on the link to her resignation letter... I really feel bad not only for Mrs Morris, but the University of Tennessee also... I appears as though through Mrs. Petersen's callousness we have lost a great friend...

smokeyvol1 writes:

Outside of basketball this is the most "sport" shown in Knoxville in months. When can we get catfights on ESPN?

pdhuff#552644 writes:

I guess everyone, deservedly or not, gets an azz-jerkin' from time to time.

Wonder if she's available for pre-game speeches.

khelton657 writes:

We should have never gone outside of Tennessee for this Tennessee's a "job" for outsiders but an "honor" for a Tennessee person... they hide their true holier than thou feelings similar to Jerry Green's but it eventually comes out, ..."Those people....", that comment alone could get you fried elsewhere...

khelton657 writes:

in response to khelton657:

We should have never gone outside of Tennessee for this Tennessee's a "job" for outsiders but an "honor" for a Tennessee person... they hide their true holier than thou feelings similar to Jerry Green's but it eventually comes out, ..."Those people....", that comment alone could get you fried elsewhere...

Maybe the next football coach could bring along his school president..sort of a twofer...

Stinger3 writes:

Put her on special teams

BigMix writes:

With exception to her bigger left eye, the left side of her face looks a little lazy.

cparay#1346966 writes:

I need to look at the film, dangumit, someone needs to step up. How about another Krispy. Now does this make it work on GoVolsExtra

WVVOLFAN writes:

in response to ColumbusVol:

Somehow I feel that this may not be Fulmer's fault.

don't kid yourself, vicki may just whip all of them....

MemphisVol writes:


stevefrommemphis writes:

Carol, I predict that THOSE PEOPLE are about to fire your husband, and good riddance. Surely there is somebody in the U.T. system who has been around Tennessee for many years, is academically inclined, and well liked by faculty and donors alike.

backyardlegend#270126 writes:

Was she previously married to Dean Vernon Wormer of Faber College? I remember seeing her at a toga party at the Delta House.

stevefrommemphis writes:

Let Haslam pick the football coach, and let me pick the President!

How about Wayne Davis, interim dean of the College of Engineering? He's been around UT for years, and he and his wife are both fine people.

chbradshaw writes:

Bye John...

Hello President Fulmer!

CrankE writes:

Not really sure what happened. We'll have to get back to The Hecktagon and see the philm.

I agree with others, get someone as UT President that is Tennessee.

How about Bill Snyder for President?

She's not ready to quit coaching basketball, but how about Pat Summitt for President of UT?

pdhuff#552644 writes:

Bet Mr. Petersen's glad she wasn't berating a member of the Haslam family.

She'd be watching games from PP, row 59 without a free hot dog and coke coupon.

tnbigg writes:

"On a Hallowed hill in Tennessee like beacon shining bright..."

BR 549's roving reporter was on the scene and filed this secret video...

dvols writes:

my day has become more enjoyable now! thanks to knoxeccentricityness.

stinky_pinky writes:

Looks like it's about time to trade-up...

tnbigg writes:

Tennessee Pride...

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