Politicians call for UT-Knoxville chancellor's resignation over holiday party advice

Faculty, students announce support for leader

Republican legislators in Tennessee are calling for the resignation of the University of Tennessee (UT) at Knoxville's chancellor following what they call anti-Christmas holiday advice.    

The university's Office for Diversity and Inclusion released a set of party recommendations going into the winter holiday season, including suggestions that "holiday parties and celebrations should celebrate and build upon workplace relationships and team morale with no emphasis on religion or culture. Ensure your holiday party is not a Christmas party in disguise."

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Following the politicians' criticism of the recommendations, the office reiterated that it was not policy—just suggestions.

All nine Republicans in the state Congress spoke out against the recommendations, and many called for Chancellor Jimmy Cheek's removal from office—though there is no evidence he helped create the document. Other legislators said they will cut the school's budget as punishment for being anti-Christian.

Since then, UT officials announced they have since adjusted the recommendations, transferred website oversight to a public-relations executive, and "counseled" the chief officer of diversity and inclusion.

Support for Cheek

Many on campus attribute the outrage over Christmas parties as a backlash to diversity efforts on campus.

Recently, Republicans have expressed discontent with transgender diversity efforts, as well as the amount the school spends on diversity initiatives broadly, including compensation for those who work on them.

On Tuesday, the faculty senate held an emergency session, passing resolution "against undue influence on the University of Tennessee" and against politicians attempting to influence the school.

Many students, too, offered support for Cheek.

"#StandwithCheek does not mean you stand for Cheek or all that he has done. It is simply recognizing that removal from office for trying to be inclusive does not merit termination ... We support Chancellor Cheek in the face of state-level opposition to diversity programs and initiatives on campus," reads a student-led online petition (Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed, 12/7; Svrluga, "Grade Point," Washington Post, 12/8).

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