Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) and Senate Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell (R-Riceville) Thursday called for the resignation of University of Tennessee Knoxville Chancellor Jimmy Cheek. The lawmakers made the call after learning about UTK’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion’s new guidance to staff on holiday parties, saying they have no confidence in his ability to lead the state’s flagship university.
The university’s guidance warns students and faculty to “ensure your holiday party is not a Christmas party in disguise,” and to “not play games with religious and cultural themes” such as “Secret Santa.” It warned that parties should have “no emphasis on religion or culture.”
“The Office of Diversity is not welcoming to all and hostile to none as they claim,” said Senator Gresham. “They are very hostile to students and other Tennesseans with Christian and conservative values. By placing a virtual religious test regarding holiday events at this campus, every student who is a Christian is penalized.”
Senators Gresham and Bell criticized the Office of Diversity and Inclusion in August for a post on the university’s website asking students and faculty to toss out “he” and “she” when addressing students for gender-neutral pronouns like ”ze” and “zir”. They also expressed disapproval over the university’s “Sex Week” which includes such events as drag shows, lectures given by a porn actress, an aphrodisiac cooking class and condom scavenger hunts. Senators Gresham and Bell objected to student activity fees being used to help fund such events.
“This is offensive to the vast majority of Tennesseans who help fund this university through their tax dollars,” added Senator Bell. “We have lost confidence in Chancellor Cheek’s ability to lead the state’s flagship university.”
In a meeting this fall, the Senate Higher Education Committee found that UTK "far outspends" other universities in the state on their diversity programs, which goes far beyond the regulations required by state and federal law.
“This is a public university, supported by taxpayer dollars, where the precious resources provided to them should be directed at what we are doing to give our students a world class education,” added Senator Bell. “The people want us to ensure that their money is being spent wisely and we have lost confidence that this this is being done.”
“Chancellor Cheek made a commitment to our Higher Education Subcommittee to personally approve future posts by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. I took him to be a man of his word and I am dismayed by these recent developments,” Senator Gresham concluded.