UT faculty rallies behind Cheek in Christmas flap

University of Tennessee faculty pledged support Sunday for Chancellor Jimmy Cheek and Vice Chancellor Rickey Hall, days after a handful of state lawmakers called for the campus leader’s resignation, reports the News Sentinel.

The Faculty Senate will hold an emergency meeting Tuesday to discuss the mounting political outrage over a list of holiday party guidelines that critics have blasted as an affront to Christianity. The group, which represents all campus professors and instructors, plans to draft a resolution to send to UT President Joe DiPietro.

“Chancellor Cheek and Vice Chancellor Hall have worked tirelessly to help make UT a more welcoming and inclusive place for all students, faculty and staff, and we support them in these efforts,” read the statement by the Faculty Senate’s executive council and past presidents of the organization.

All nine of the state’s Republicans in Congress spoke out against the guidelines last week, which suggested that campus holiday gatherings not be “a Christmas party in disguise” and that games with “religious or cultural themes” — such as Secret Santa or Dreidel — be avoided.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said Cheek should resign if he was involved at all with the guidelines and hinted the school could be stripped of state funding. Three state lawmakers have also called for Cheek’s resignation.

…Cheek has defended the list as suggestions, and not university policy. DiPietro issued a statement Friday crediting Cheek with making large strides in his tenure at UT, but adding that he respects the concerns raised by political leaders.

“As such, I am carefully considering any decision with the potential to impact the stability and momentum of our state’s flagship institution, in appropriate consultation with our board of trustees and with input from UTK faculty, staff and students,” he said.

Staff and students began circulating online petitions supporting Cheek and Hall almost immediately following the backlash. As of Sunday evening, 1,138 students and 914 faculty and staff had signed them.

The dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, along with 20 department heads in the college, sent a letter to DiPietro on Sunday supporting Cheek and Hall, according to the faculty.