Holiday cheer is noticeably lacking on Rocky Top, as UT's Office for Diversity and Inclusion has once again come under fire from Tennessee's legislators.
U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan appeared on Fox News Thursday, denouncing a post on the Office for Diversity and Inclusion's website encouraging students and faculty to “Ensure your holiday party is not a Christmas party in disguise.” Duncan since called for UT Chancellor Jimmy Cheek's resignation for what he sees as a “ridiculously overboard” example of political correctness within the state's flagship university.
The Office issued a clarification of the post in same afternoon, stating that the message is not a policy and is in no way enforceable by the university.
Chancellor Cheek also issued a statement regarding the post in an attempt to clarify the university's position. “Our campus has numerous holiday parties and celebrations and we do not monitor these activities,” read Cheek's statement.
“We honor Christmas as one of the celebrations of the season and the birth of Jesus, and the corresponding Christmas observance is one of the Christian holidays on our cultural and religious holidays calendar.”
State Rep. Martin Daniel, R-Knoxville, wrote a letter to Jimmy Cheek criticizing the university for going too far in their efforts to bring diversity to UT.
“Needless to say, the University of Tennessee is not a day care. It cannot be a guarantor to all that feelings will not be hurt from time to time,” Daniel wrote. “Moreover, while harassment and intimidation cannot be allowed, no one has a right to be free from mere offensive remarks or actions.”
Calls for the Chancellor's resignation have received mixed responses within the UT community. Early this afternoon, Tripp Underwood, senior in finance, painted this message on the The Rock : “Secret Santa, All I want for Christmas is Jimmy Cheek's resignation.”
This post, Underwood explained, represents an “attack on the conservative values of the states” and requires an immediate removal by UT administrators, citing August's gender neutral pronoun list as another reason to fire Cheek.
“They're trying to say they incorporate all, but they're excluding Christmas, which doesn't make sense to me because it's Christmas break. After the whole pronoun fiasco, (Cheek) said he would approve any other controversial memos sent out from the Office of Diversity and I imagine he had to approve this one.”
“I think it's a sign of incompetence and that state legislature needs to ask for his resignation.”
Like the pronoun list, Underwood said the memo should be removed and a statement released by Cheek giving his full support on the Christmas holiday.
“It's Christmas season and you don't need to exclude Christmas,” said Underwood. “Yeah you can celebrate Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, but there's no need to rid ourselves of that.”
Other responses have been more harsh. State Sen. Mae Beavers, a Tennessee Republican in Mount Juliet, tweeted on Thursday “Office of Diversity needs to go. Save over 5 million.”
UTK's Pride Center has utilized Twitter to voice its stance, using the hashtag “StandwithCheek” to oppose what they see as “an attack on UT and it's valuing diversity and inclusion.”
The Pride Center was again at the forefront of controversy last August when the Office of Diversity and Inclusion posted a message encouraging the use of gender-neutral pronouns for non gender conforming students. The post was later removed amid similar controversy, with UT president Joe DiPietro and Cheek reaching what they described as a mutual decision.
Voicing support for the Office of Diversity, student and UT's College Democrats president Mitch Thompson expressed the need for diversity at UT given the college's pursuit of the Top 25 initiative.
“The university needs to be a safe place for every individual and only through acceptance and inclusion can this be achieved,” Thompson said. “Having an office focused on the well-being of our student body, faculty and staff is the best way to keep UT forward moving in the right direction.”
This latest backlash from Tennessee legislators comes only days after UT's Student Government Association voted 37-12 Tuesday in favor of endorsing the use of gender neutral pronouns.