The horrible, terrible, no good, very bad local story of the moment is that the University of Tennessee is about to get clobbered by the State Legislature, because the U’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion had a web page on how to keep your generic holiday party from turning into a ‘christmas party in disguise’. The page was of course nonbinding advice, not biding policy.
Earlier this year the same Office of Diversity and Inclusion offered a web page detailing various ways to use inclusive language in student writing, including replacing gendered pronouns with ‘she/he’, epicene ‘they’ or neo-pronouns like ‘xe’, as well as advice on being inclusive of racial and religious minorities, gays, and – particularly repellant to Christianist bigots – trans people.
The two ‘incidents’ have caused an explosion of rage on the Tennessee far right – that it mandates respect for ‘deviancy’, that it strikes against free expression of Xmas, etc. The Republicans are demanding the Office of Diversity at the flagship Knoxville campus be defunded ($250k) and everyone who works there be fired. They also want all “diversity funding” (a few million, systemwide) be terminated and banned legislatively so it can never be reinstated; this includes money for faculty retention and student recruitment. They want that money redirected to a right-wing “Free Speech” center to make sure all far-right Christianists on campus enjoy a safe space. And, for good measure, they want the Chancellor’s head. If this isn’t done, they are threatening to crush the University of Tennessee system.
Now, I don’t think much of Jimmy Cheek, but he is in the right, and the whole nasty mess is racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, and vile to everyone not a right-wing white American fundamentalist.
The faculty Senate met in emergency session and voted support for Cheek – nobody cares about them. And the student body have gone out in support of Cheek and the Office of Diversity. Nobody cares what they say either. Especially not after those Atlantic Magazine hit pieces on fragile, neurotic women and minority students.
Cheek, after an initial, though quiet, defense of diversity, is now – much more in character for him – lining up subordinates to toss under the campus bus, including the vice chancellor in whose portfolio is the Diversity Office. Bad enough – but it’s not going to work this time. I think he’s going to lose his job, and the U of TN will get ‘new leadership.’ Want to bet it will be a political sinecure for a right-wing ideologue or donor, and that person won’t have anything resembling ability, experience, or the traditional doctorate?
At the same time, the Governor¹ ostensibly has ‘drive to 55‘ campaign – get 55% of TN citizens a post-secondary degree by 2525. This is meant to dovetail with the University’s long-term capital campaign and faculty recruitment effort, to get the Univ. of TN into the top 25 of American research schools.
Yeah, right. Almost every year the University’s funding is cut and every year the legislature attacks scholarship and minority recruitment and even the physical plant from every angle it can think of.² If you can leave the University of TN, you do. If you can get a scholarship out of state, you do. And it becomes more and more a backwater, unable to fulfill any of its missions.
Meanwhile, the school is now so expensive, many students can’t afford to eat.
It’s a joke, and stomach-turning, and there’s nothing that can be done to stop it. Just a microcosm of US politics at this moment in time.
¹ Bill Haslam, America’s Richest Public Servant™, whose agenda in office is to give away state assets away to his rich pals, with all the other, boring stuff delegated to Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, the right-wing state-legislative equivalent of the Tasmanian Devil.
² One of Haslam’s proposed giveaways is to fire all the physical plant, grounds, cleaning, and maintenance personnel from the entire Tennessee state government and replace them with private subcontractors. Thousands of people would lose their state government jobs and benefits – this includes the workers in the University system. There’s a provision to allow the UT system to opt out of the privatization, which Cheek was thought to favor – if they get someone new, the University privatization will surely happen, just as Bill and Ron want it to.