Category Archives: racial relations

UT diversity demolished? Haslam OKs defunding; UT disbands

Gov. Bill Haslam allowed the bill that diverts about $436,000 from the University of Tennessee’s office of diversity and inclusion and into minority engineering scholarships during the next school year to become law without his signature on Friday, reports Richard Locker. The article includes a generic overview of UT diversity squabbling.

“This bill received considerable debate and discussion during legislative session, and the final form of HB2248 was revised so that its primary effect is to redirect administrative funding for the Office for Diversity and Inclusion for one year into scholarships for minority engineering students. Although I do not like the precedent of redirecting funds within a higher education institution’s budget, I find the ultimate outcome of the legislation less objectionable and am therefore letting it become law without my endorsement,” Haslam said in a message to the Legislature.

The governor’s action comes a day after the University of Washington announced that it is hiring UT Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion Rickey Hall, who has been at the center of controversy and calls to defund his office. (Previous post HERE)

Note: The governor’s decision to go along with the legislative mandate coincides with UT’s announcement that the Office of Diversity and Inclusion is being dismantled.

From the News Sentinel:

The University of Tennessee has disbanded its Office of Diversity, including eliminating four staff positions and a $131,365 operating budget… The reductions include Vice Chancellor for Diversity Rickey Hall, who has accepted a similar position with the University of Washington, an administrative assistant who has since accepted a job elsewhere in the university, and a graduate student, who has since graduated from UT.

Human Resources is also helping a fourth employee in her job search, including open positions within the university, Nichols said. All four will be paid through June 30, she said.

Meanwhile, Donna Braquet, director of the UT Pride Center, will resume her full-time position as an associate professor in the University Libraries department. A quarter of her salary had been covered by the Office of Diversity when she became director of the center.

…Chancellor Jimmy Cheek sent an email to the campus Friday afternoon, in which he said he was “saddened” but the decision.

“This in no way diminishes our commitment to diversity and inclusion,” he wrote. “The new law doesn’t impact most of the funding for those efforts.

“I am committed to making sure each person is respected for who they are and that each person feels safe and valued on our campus.”

Appeals court splits along racial lines in racial assault case

From a News-Sentinel report:
Viewing the same video and reading the same facts and testimony, two Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals judges, both white, saw Stevean Wilson, a young black man, as a remorseless, violent gang member who deserved prison in a fight at a Knoxville restaurant captured on video.

But a third judge on the panel, who is black, saw a largely law-abiding young man labeled with scant proof a gang member who should have garnered probation.

In a 2-1 split, Appellate Judges Robert W. Wedemeyer and Norma McGee Ogle in an opinion made public this week upheld the six-year prison term Wilson garnered in the videotaped beating, while Appellate Judge Camille R. McMullen issued a dissenting opinion.

Note: The majority opinion is HERE; McMullen’s dissent HERE.

Kid cuffing brings police chief apology

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee police chief has apologized after his officers arrested 10 elementary school students, some of whom were handcuffed, in a bullying and assault case.

Murfreesboro Police Chief Karl Durr’s apology came after angry parents demanded action during a community meeting following the arrests at Hobgood Elementary School and other locations on April 15. It wasn’t clear exactly how many students were handcuffed.

The chief told The Tennessean ( he was “so sorry this incident happened” and he thinks it could have been avoided.

Durr reiterated that an internal review is ongoing. He said the department would also review its handcuffing policy, which currently says officers should “take into consideration” whether to handcuff children under 12.

Durr, who started as chief on April 4, said at least one child involved in the bullying case is also involved in a larger criminal investigation.

“Remember there was a victim here too, so if my officer didn’t do their job that day, and we ignored the victim, what would this conversation be today?” Durr said. “That we failed to do our job.”

Records show that the children were charged with “criminal responsibility for conduct of another,” after allegedly witnessing and fight and not intervening.

The newspaper reports there are no plans to dismiss the charges.

Durr said the review would determine whether any policies had been broken or whether any new policies or training are warranted.

“I want to believe what happened here was an anomaly, because of the good work that I see,” Durr said. “Errors were made, and now we are going to correct them moving forward and fix them so they are not repeated.”

House, Senate agree on compromise cut to UT diversity funding

By Sheila Burke, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — State lawmakers voted to send a message that they don’t agree with the sexually open and progressive views of the Office for Diversity and Inclusion on the University of Tennessee campus. So the Legislature on Thursday passed a bill stripping it of state funds — a total of nearly $337,000. The money will be used to fund minority scholarships instead.

Some socially conservative legislators had vowed to gut funding from the office for promoting Sex Week and after it recommended using gender-neutral pronouns on campus and advised against religious-themed parties and decorations.

The money would have gone to pay for the salaries of four people at the diversity office. The bill strips the office of funding for one year.

Sen. Lee Harris, D-Memphis, raised concerns that lawmakers were sending too strong a message and that UT administrators would be disinclined to spend money on the diversity office after that one year because it attracted so much ire from the Legislature. He worried that the minority scholarships, along with funding for the diversity office would be gone even after the year is up.

But another lawmaker disagreed that the legislature had acted too harshly.

“This is a slap on the wrist compared to the foolishness that has come out of that office in the last few years,” Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, said.
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Black Caucus asks state, federal probes in handcuffing of Murfreesboro kids

News release from Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators
NASHVILLE—At a press conference today The Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators called for a state and federal investigation into the handcuffing and arrest of several African-American children, aged 5-to-11, for watching a fight and not breaking it up. Lawmakers are also calling the complete expungement of the children’s arrest records.

Standing side by side with a group of clergy from Murfreesboro, as well as other concerned lawmakers, Caucus Chair Rep. Brenda Gilmore (D-Nashville) said the Black Caucus has been conducting a year-long examination of the justice system in Tennessee and said this is another example of the unfairness that poor people and people of color face.
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Democrats seek federal probe of ‘unconscionable’ handcuffing of kids

The handcuffing of children at a Murfreesboro elementary school got the attention of state legislators Tuesday.

According to the Daily News Journal: More than 150 people called for action Sunday after parents said at least five students, ages 6 to 10, were handcuffed at Hobgood Elementary School on Friday. The students were arrested, accused of not stopping a fight that happened earlier off-campus and later released from the juvenile center on Friday…

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart gave a speech on the matter during Tuesday’s House floor session and the Caucus subsequently sent out this press release:

NASHVILLE—State Representative Mike Stewart (D-Nashville) has issued this statement: “Today I call on United States Department of Justice to immediately open an investigation into the reported arrest and handcuffing of children as young as six by the Murfreesboro, Tennessee police. There is no explanation for such inexcusable conduct perpetrated against young children who were peacefully attending elementary school when accosted, handcuffed and jailed. We need a full investigation into this unconscionable incident to safeguard the children’s federal and state civil rights and to determine whether those involved should be prosecuted for criminal misconduct. This is every parent’s nightmare and we need to make sure that it is never repeated.”

“There is no rational safety justification for this act in our society”, said State Representative John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville). “We cannot begin to imagine the fear and confusion experienced by these young children. This experience will undoubtedly remain with them as they mature into adulthood and negatively mold their views of law enforcement officials. It is truly unfortunate that the inappropriate acts of a few, who are not representative of the other brave men and women who honorably serve our communities, will create a new level of distrust between our communities and law enforcement.”

“The handcuffing of young elementary school children is so completely outrageous and contrary to good sense that those responsible must be immediately held accountable for their incompetence and inaction”, Rep. Stewart added. “We need to make sure that this never happens again in the State of Tennessee. The Murfreesboro police chief reportedly described the handcuffing of children as young as six as a ‘learning experience.’ That shows that he completely misapprehends the seriousness of this incident of excessive force against young children. Clearly he is not capable of properly investigating this matter or holding all those responsible for their actions.”

House votes take funding from UT diversity program

The House voted Monday night to strip the University of Tennessee’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion of $5 million in state funding, leaving the bill’s fate to the Senate. At UT-Knoxville, student supporters plan “a class walk-out and rally” to protest the action.

From WPLN:

The move is meant to shut down a program that drew attention last year for suggesting the use of gender neutral pronouns and for recommending Christmas parties be referred to as holiday celebrations.

Those were just the latest actions on the UT Knoxville campus that have irked conservatives in the Tennessee legislature, like Rep. Roger Kane, R-Knoxville.

“There is diversity, but what this center does is it creates a sense of divisiveness,” Kane said Monday night, just before the chamber approved the funding change (Note: The vote: 66-22).

The House measure (HB2248) would take money for the diversity office and split it between scholarships for minority students and decals for police cruisers that say “In God We Trust.”

The state Senate is working on a separate plan to defund the diversity office. It, too, would put money into minority scholarships but not the “In God We Trust” stickers.
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Gardenhire drops push to cut UT diversity funding

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A bill seeking to strip funding from University of Tennessee’s diversity office has been withdrawn in the Senate.

Republican Sen. Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga withdrew the bill (SB1912) from consideration on Wednesday. Supporters had been upset at the state’s flagship university for promoting an annual Sex Week and for recommending the use of gender-neutral pronouns on campus and advising against religious-themed parties and decorations.

The House version of the bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Micah Van Huss of Jonesborough would have redirected $100,000 from the diversity office to pay for the school to create “In God We Trust” decals and send them to law enforcement agencies around the state.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has spoken out against dismantling diversity funding at higher education instructions.

Bill gives UT diversity money to ‘In God We Trust’ decals

As amended in a House subcommittee Tuesday, $100,000 would be taken from the University of Tennessee’s funding for diversity each year and spent and spent to provide decals bearing the national motto “In God We Trust” for law enforcement vehicles.

Further from the News Sentinel:

House Bill 2248 as originally filed by Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Johnson City, would strip all state funding from UT’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion. But Van Huss entered the House Education Subcommittee on Tuesday afternoon with an amendment.

…The amendment would also prohibit UT from using any state funds “to promote the use of gender-neutral pronouns, Sex Week or to promote or demote a religious holiday.” The committee approved the amendment and moments later, the bill, on an unrecorded group voice vote.

Rep. Eddie Smith, R-Knoxville, asked Van Huss whether he would be willing to accept an amendment later, in the full House Education Committee, that would allow UT to keep the $100,000 a year and use it to recruit students from six Tennessee counties with no students currently enrolled through UT’s various diversity efforts — including minority students, veterans and students who are the first in their families to attend college. Van Huss said he would be willing to discuss such an amendment with Smith before the bill reaches the full committee next week.

But he declined a suggestion by Smith, the chairman of the Knox County legislation delegation, to hold off and give UT time to work out its controversies internally under a separate bill already approved by the House to restructure the UT administration.

Smith said that bill makes reporting lines clearer in the UT campus and system administration and makes clearer the responsibilities of the UT board of trustees.

…The Senate Education Committee on March 2 recommended stripping $8 million from the UT budget for diversity and inclusion operations and reroute it to agricultural extension and other rural outreach programs. That proposal still must be considered by the Senate Finance Committee.