Category Archives: University of Tennessee

UT won’t penalize professor for tweet that ‘offended many’

The University of Tennessee College of Law Dean Melanie D. Wilson said Tuesday that no disciplinary action will be taken against Glen Reynolds, one of its law professors and a contributing columnist for USA TODAY and the News Sentinel for a tweet urging motorists to run over demonstrators blocking traffic in Charlotte, N.C.

Further from the News Sentinel:

“The tweet was an exercise of his First Amendment rights,” Wilson wrote in a post on the law school’s website.

“Nevertheless, the tweet offended many members of our community and beyond, and I understand the hurt and frustration they feel.”

The law school had begun an investigation after a Glenn Reynolds’ tweet.

Twitter briefly suspended Reynolds’ account after he responded to a tweet from a TV news station Wednesday night in Charlotte that showed protesters — angered by the police shooting of a black man — on Interstate 277.

“Run them down,” he wrote.

Reynolds, the creator of the Instapundit blog, tweets from the handle @Instapundit.

Wilson wrote that the law school’s investigation included “an examination of the facts, policies in the university’s Faculty Handbook, and the law.”

She said she also talked to Reynolds, university leadership and the general counsel as well as students, staff, faculty, Alumni Council and Dean’s Circle.

“In short, no disciplinary action will be taken against Professor Reynolds,” she wrote.

Durham hit Florida fan during UT football game

Former state Rep. Jeremy Durham hit a University of Florida fan in the face during the University of Tennessee’s football game Saturday and was escorted out of Neyland Stadium by a law enforcement officer, reports The Tennessean.

Several witnesses confirmed an officer approached Durham and asked him to leave. The recently expelled lawmaker complied and was escorted out of the stands by a Blount County sheriff’s deputy.

Photos and video obtained by The Tennessean verify that Durham was approached by the deputy and others after the hitting incident.

When initially approached by event staff, Durham said, “Did you see what he did? He pushed me. And I pushed his sunglasses off.”

A Tennessee fan who saw what happened said Durham was sitting with his wife and state Sen. Brian Kelsey, a longtime friend of Durham’s. The Tennessee fan said a particularly boisterous Florida fan was yelling loudly, and at one point Durham responded to the yells. The Florida fan started yelling at Durham. Once the Florida fan yelled at Durham, the Tennessee fan said Durham turned around and hit the man in the face.

“As he hit the guy’s face, almost slapped at his face, he caused the guy’s glasses to fly off his face. (The glasses) probably went 10 to 12 people down the aisle and one row in front,” said the fan, who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation.

…David Williams, son of former Tennessee House Speaker Kent Williams, who was seated three rows behind the Florida fan and four rows behind Durham, said, “I saw Mr. Durham turn around and basically smack the guy in the face and it knocked the sun glasses off his head.” Continue reading

UT paying lawyers $45K each to evaluate sexual environment

The University of Tennessee will pay four attorneys $45,000 each plus expenses to evaluate the UT system’s Title IX programs in the wake of a federal lawsuit settled in July that accused the school of maintaining a “hostile sexual environment,” reports the News Sentinel.

UT President Joe DiPietro said Wednesday that he hopes to keep the cost of the independent commission under $250,000.

The group will meet privately for the first time with DiPietro on Nov. 17 in Knoxville and will then begin its work independently of the university after Thanksgiving, he said. Subsequent meetings will also be secret, unless the commission decides to hold public meetings for community feedback. The group’s correspondence would also be privileged, DiPietro said.

“Our view of this is because it’s an independent commission and it’s under the purview of (law firm) Neal & Harwell, that the meetings and information are private,” DiPietro said. “But there will be a public report at the end of it.”

Deborah Fisher, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, said that because the commission was hired by UT’s president rather than appointed by the board of trustees, the meetings are not subject to open meetings laws. Although documents the commission generates for the university would be public, anything considered “legal advice” would be covered by attorney-client privilege, she said.

…The four commission members are:

•Stanley Brand, an attorney with Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in Washington with experience handling political corruption cases.

•Bill Morelli, an attorney in Nashville who specializes in compliance law and ethics code development who spent more than two decades with Ingram Industries, a manufacturing company.

•Elizabeth Conklin, associate vice president of the Office of Institutional Equity and Title IX and Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator for the University of Connecticut.

•Janet Judge, president of Sports Law Associates LLC, who concentrates on sexual harassment, sexual violence prevention in intercollegiate sports and employment law.

Tom Ingram’s pay for UT ‘communications strategies:’ $240K

Veteran political operative Tom Ingram will be paid up to $240,000 for a year’s work “developing communications strategies” for the University of Tennessee in connection with a lawsuit contending UT was a “hostile sexual environment” for women, reports the News Sentinel.

If paid to the maximum, that would be more money than the highest-paid communications executive for the university.

While the one-page agreement, a letter from UT to its outside legal counsel, doesn’t identify the specialist, Tom Ingram confirmed he continues to work for the Nashville-based Neal & Harwell law firm, which represents the university in Title IX matters.

Even though the lawsuit is settled, work remains to be done on media inquiries to UT President Joe DiPietro on the forming of an independent commission that will review the UT system’s policies and programs to address sexual assault, Ingram said.

He said issues like Title IX get “so complicated and so multi-dimensional” that the settlement, which looks like an end, really isn’t the end of the follow-up work.

Ingram said there is no set time frame for when that work will end.

A paid consultant for Haslam until last July, Ingram is the founder of Nashville-based public relations and lobbying firm the Ingram Group. (Note: He’s also been a longtime political aide to U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker.)

“It’s a shame that they (the university) were in that situation,” said Williams, whose lobbying organization focuses on government accountability. “How much difference it was having Tom (Ingram) do that? I don’t know.”

He wonders what the university received that it couldn’t get from its communications staff.

…The letter confirming Ingram’s hiring, dated May 2, doesn’t include specifics of the “communications strategies” he was hired to execute. His services, however, are on top of the more than $424,500 in combined salary for communications leaders for the system and campus, Vice President Tonja Johnson and former Vice Chancellor Margie Nichols.

Ingram and his employees, through the law firm, are helping with “inquiries about the Title IX case” and “providing communications support for follow-up efforts that are part of the settlement,” Johnson said in an email.

Those efforts include the president’s commission and more, such as employee training.

UT diversity tops Beacon TN ‘pork’ for 2016

News release from Beacon Center of Tennessee
In the organization’s 11th annual Tennessee Pork Report, the Beacon Center reveals that state and local government officials squandered $480 million of taxpayers’ hard-earned money this past year.

For the second consecutive year, the Beacon Center allowed the people of Tennessee to pick the infamous “Pork of the Year” award. After hundreds of votes, the “winner” of the award was the University of Tennessee’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion. This taxpayer-funded office “encouraged” students and faculty to use gender neutral pronouns such as “ze” and “zir” in lieu of “he” and “she” and tried to ensure that holiday parties on the campus were not “Christmas parties in disguise.”

The report highlights this mismanagement of taxpayer funds and includes the following examples:

•Nearly $56 million taxpayer dollars to fund the canceled-then-revived-on-cable television series Nashville
•$1.5 million paid to out of state artists to litter music city with tacky art
•$900,000 in Washington-style earmarks for Hamilton County commissioners to squander on their pet political projects

After more than a decade of exposing government waste, the Beacon Center remains committed to holding government officials accountable and keeping taxpayers informed. We hope the Pork Report will create a more responsible and transparent government that prioritizes taxpayers.

You can read the full Tennessee Pork Report by clicking here.

UT paying $2.48M to settle sexual harassment lawsuit

The University of Tennessee will pay $2.48 million to settle a federal Title IX lawsuit alleging the university maintains a “hostile sexual environment,” reports the News Sentinel.

Lawyers for UT and the eight unidentified female plaintiffs agreed to the settlement, announced Tuesday, two days before a response to the lawsuit from UT lawyers was due in U.S. District Court.

The settlement, to be paid half by the athletics department and half by the Knoxville campus, still needs to be approved by U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger of Nashville.

The lawsuit alleges UT violates Title IX in handling of sexual assault cases, especially accusations against student athletes. The February filing spurred a wave of media attention and brought recent sexual assault cases involving UT athletes as well as allegations against former UT and National Football League quarterback Peyton Manning back into the spotlight.

The lawsuit’s plaintiffs include the accusers in sexual assault cases against former basketball player Yemi Makanjuola and former football players A.J. Johnson, Michael Williams, Von Pearson, Alexis Johnson and Riyahd Jones. A trial had been set for May 2018.

The settlement amount, just under half of the maximum UT expected to pay had its defense failed, was discussed for months, according to UT.

The settlement required approval from a long list of UT and state officials and comes after Trauger denied motions by the university to dismiss the case, to move the trial from Nashville to Knoxville and to remove references to Manning.

The agreement means UT has paid roughly $4.01 million in settlements and attorney fees for athletics-related lawsuits in the past two years.

In announcing the agreement, UT officials and lawyers called settling the lawsuit “the right thing to do” to prevent an emotional toll on those involved, protect the reputation of UT and avoid added legal costs that the university estimated could reach $5.5 million.

Obama, TN politicians join in tributes to Pat Summitt

Statement of President Barrack Obama, as issued by White House press office

Nobody walked off a college basketball court victorious more times than Tennessee’s Pat Summitt. For four decades, she outworked her rivals, made winning an attitude, loved her players like family, and became a role model to millions of Americans, including our two daughters. Her unparalleled success includes never recording a losing season in 38 years of coaching‎, but also, and more importantly, a 100 percent graduation rate among her players who completed their athletic eligibility. Her legacy, however, is measured much more by the generations of young women and men who admired Pat’s intense competitiveness and character, and as a result found in themselves the confidence to practice hard, play harder, and live with courage on and off the court. As Pat once said in recalling her achievements, “What I see are not the numbers. I see their faces.”

Pat learned early on that everyone should be treated the same. When she would play basketball against her older brothers in the family barn, they didn’t treat her any differently and certainly didn’t go easy on her. Later, her Hall of Fame career would tell the story of the historic progress toward equality in American athletics that she helped advance. Pat started playing college hoops before Title IX and started coaching before the NCAA recognized women’s basketball as a sport. When she took the helm at Tennessee as a 22-year-old, she had to wash her players’ uniforms; by the time Pat stepped down as the Lady Vols’ head coach, her teams wore eight championship rings and had cut down nets in sold-out stadiums.

Pat was a patriot who earned Olympic medals for America as a player and a coach, and I was honored to award her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She was a proud Tennessean who, when she went into labor while on a recruiting visit, demanded the pilot return to Knoxville so her son could be born in her home state. And she was an inspiring fighter. Even after Alzheimer’s started to soften her memory, and she began a public and brave fight against that terrible disease, Pat had the grace and perspective to remind us that “God doesn’t take things away to be cruel. … He takes things away to lighten us. He takes things away so we can fly.”

Michelle and I send our condolences to Pat Summitt’s family – which includes her former players and fans on Rocky Top and across America. Continue reading

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.

UT gets new diversity leader

University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro announced Thursday that he’s created a new position to address diversity and inclusion across the system, reports the News Sentinel.

Noma Anderson will be special adviser to the president on diversity and inclusion starting July 1. DiPietro said Anderson’s role builds on a commitment to diversity and will address challenges related to inclusion.

Anderson is currently dean of the College of Health Professions at the UT Health Science Center in Memphis and chair of the Diversity Advisory Council for the system.

With her new position, Anderson will spend half of her time as an adviser to the president and chair of the diversity council. The other half will be as a faculty member working to streamline admissions, transfers and financial aid processes in the Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology. She will be based in Memphis.

Anderson’s salary will be $230,817.96 and dually funded by UTHSC and UT System, according to the university.

…The creation of the new role comes after state lawmakers defunded the Knoxville campus’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion for one year and after strong support for diversity from faculty and students… Both Cheek and DiPietro stressed during the meetings that UT has to follow the new law but is committed to diversity.