UT trustees host country club dining for state legislators

Six legislators and Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett dined with the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees at Cherokee Country Club on Wednesday night at what is being called a strictly social event that was not on the trustees’ public agenda, reports Georgiana Vines.

Gina Stafford, UT communications director, said trustees frequently have luncheons with local legislative delegations where presentations are made. Those are public at various campuses when the board meets, she said.

Dinners have never been public, she said.

“Number one, it is a social function. The things we are obligated to share or take a vote on or deliberate is public. It (the dinner) doesn’t correspond with that,” Stafford said.

…State Sen. Becky Duncan Massey, R-Knoxville, attended the dinner with husband Morton. She said she thought it was “smart on their (UT’s) part to basically facilitate communication.”

“The board hasn’t necessarily been doing that,” she said. “They need to be building relationships. I think that was a smart thing to do. People can work through things better if you have a good relationship with them.”

Legislators took issue with various UT programs this year, including defunding its Office for Diversity and Inclusion after controversial Web posts regarding gender-neutral pronouns and inclusive holiday parties. U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., R-Knoxville, also blasted UT for the website’s suggestions on holiday parties, calling the memo “ridiculous.”

Duncan, who is Massey’s brother, also was invited to the dinner but couldn’t attend, she said.

…Stafford said legislators from surrounding counties were invited, as was Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero.

Other lawmakers who attended, all Republicans, were Sen. Richard Briggs and Reps. Roger Kane and Eddie Smith of Knoxville, Sen. Doug Overbey of Maryville and Rep. John Ragan of Oak Ridge.