university of tennessee

UT student newspaper cuts print edition to twice weekly

The University of Tennessee’s student-run newspaper, the Daily Beacon, is cutting its print frequency to twice weekly after 50 years of printing five days per week, reports the News Sentinel.

The change, which will start in the fall of 2017, was announced Tuesday in an editorial by the paper’s current and incoming chief editors. (Note: It’s HERE.)

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Emails show UT officials fired reporter in fear of funding loss in firing reporter

Email correspondence between University of Tennessee at Chattanooga top officials, obtained by the Times-Free Press, show that lawmaker pressure and a fear of losing state funding were indeed involved in the firing of WUTC reporter Jacqui Helbert.

Comments in emails appear in some respects appear to contradict earlier statements of UTC officials on the firing of Helbert, who has filed a $1 million lawsuit against the university.

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Sex Week at UT-Knoxville — different this year?

The University of Tennessee’s controversial Sex Week, which got underway Sunday, may have started as a way to address sexual assaults on campus and more traditional issues around sexuality, but this year the event is tackling an even broader range of issues, reports the News Sentinel.

A somewhat contrasting report of the Sex Week events is offered by Tennessee Star. Excerpts from both follow.

From the KNS:

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Fired public radio reporter sues UT-Chattanooga

Fired reporter Jacqui Helbert is suing the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga over her termination from the campus’s public radio station, WUTC-FM, reports the Nashville Scene.

In a lawsuit filed (Thursday) in Hamilton County Circuit Court, Helbert asks for “reinstatement, apology, education and training about the laws violated, lost wages, harm for the emotional distress from the retaliatory firing, reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs, and any further relief appropriate to the circumstances,” up to $1 million in damages.

The university and and two employees, senior associate vice chancellor of marketing and communications George Heddleston and associate vice chancellor of marketing and communications Chuck Cantrell, are named as defendants.

“Clearly I believe I was fired for reporting a story of important public interest that did not sit well with lawmakers,” Helbert says in a prepared statement.

See also the Times-Free Press report. An excerpt:

Helbert was fired “because she accurately reported the inflammatory and embarrassing words of one legislator and the truthful but unpopular words of another,” the lawsuit states. “Sadly, UTC chose self-preservation through retaliation over honesty.”

And the AP did a brief story on the lawsuit that was distributed nationally.


NPR says TN affiliate shouldn’t have fired reporter after legislator complaints

National Public Radio officials released a statement Monday saying Jacqui Helbert, former WUTC reporter, should not have been fired by the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga last week after complaints from state legislators, reports the Times-Free Press.

The lawmakers say Helbert didn’t identify herself as a reporter while taping remarks of Sen. Mike Bell and Rep. Kevin Brooks to high school students opposing the “transgender bathroom bill.” (Previous post HERE.)

WUTC is an NPR affiliate, receiving more than $500,000 per year in state funding with a base of operations at UT-Chattanooga. The NPR statement urged the university and WUTC to reach an agreement that ensures the station’s editorial independence. Besides firing Helbert, the station yanked her report off the station’s website.

NPR’s statement said WUTC’s editors would not have removed the story from the station’s website if not told to do so by the university, and did not view the story as “fatally flawed,” as Helbert did not hide her equipment or mislead anyone, according to a statement released online by Michael Oreskes, senior vice president of news and editorial director, and Mark Memmott, supervising senior editor for standards and practices.

“Taking the decisions about enforcing ethics out of [WUTC’s] hands did more to undermine the station’s credibility than the original infraction,” the NPR statement reads. “This chain of events underscores why it is critical that newsrooms such as that at WUTC not be subject to pressure from the institutions that hold their licenses, the sponsors who give them financial support or the politicians who sometimes don’t like the stories they hear or read.”

Note: See also WPLN (Nashville’s NPR affiliate), which has comments from Bell and Sen. Todd Gardenhire, two of the legislators involved. The headline: “Republican Lawmakers Say They Didn’t Push For Chattanooga Reporter To Be Fired”

Increase in assaults at UT linked to election emotions

Assault reports at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville more than doubled in 2016 and officials say the presidential election may be a factor, reports The Tennessean.

Sixty-four assaults were reported at UT in 2016 compared to 28 in 2015, according to an annual log of campus crime released Thursday by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. (Previous post HERE.) In an email, Lt. Mike Richardson with UT police teased a possible connection with the unusually close and controversial campaign.

“Assaults many times are driven by emotion,” Richardson wrote in an email. “2016 was a year that involved a very (contentious) election season, which involved numerous protests in many forms and involved heightened emotion on both sides. We cannot say specifically…every incident was related to this cause, but this could give a reason for such increases.”

UT saw its assault numbers jump higher than most other colleges, but there was an increase statewide. Campuses across Tennessee reported a 21 percent increase in assaults, with 794 assaults reported in 2016 and 657 reported in 2015.

UT trustees plan $375K in bonus payments to seven administrators

University of Tennessee trustees gave initial approval to pay out nearly $375,000 in bonuses to its seven top administrators Friday, reports the News Sentinel. That includes bonuses for two campus chancellors who have already left their posts.

Biggest bonus would go to UT President Joe DiPietro — $101,816.

Former Knoxville Chancellor Jimmy Cheek, who stepped down Feb. 15, could receive $41,563. Former Institute of Agriculture Chancellor Larry Arrington, who retired Sept. 1, could see $40,973.

The incentive payments were approved by trustees at the executive and compensation committee Friday morning at the Knoxville campus. The bonuses will go to the full board for a vote at its March 29 meeting in Chattanooga.

Chattanooga Chancellor Steven Angle, UT Health Sciences Chancellor Steve Schwab, former UT General Counsel Catherine Mizell and Senior Vice President for Research, Outreach and Economic Development David Millhorn each will get bonuses between $32,222 and $68,097.

The bonuses are part of an incentive plan the board adopted in 2012 and then tweaked last year. The board grades its president, chancellors and other top executives on measures like enrollment growth, expanding research and fundraising.

Chancellors and executives are eligible to receive up to 15 percent of their base salaries. None will receive the full 15 percent. The range is 9.2 percent, which Cheek will get, to 14.2 percent at the highest end, for Mizell.

Retired UT administrators get big bucks as professors

Former University of Tennessee Chancellor Jimmy Cheek will earn $340,650 annually as a professor, which is 75 percent of his chancellor’s salary and nearly double that of the next highest-paid faculty member in the department, reports the News Sentinel.

Cheek’s contract does not stipulate a point in time when his salary would revert to department standards. In other words, the arrangement is for an unlimited time period.

UT President Joe DiPietro, who currently earns an annual salary of $465,618, has a similar deal for when he leaves his administrative position. He’s contracted to earn 75 percent of his final base salary as president should he move to a 12-month faculty position in the College of Veterinary Medicine. His contract also specifies no time limit.

Retreat salaries, allowing higher education administrators to move to faculty positions, are common, especially for university leaders with an academic background, according to the American Council on Education.

These arrangements at UT currently add up to nearly $1.5 million in pay at the Knoxville campus, for former administrators including Cheek and five others. That’s about $450,000 more than UT pays in total to the highest earning faculty members in each of those administrator’s respective departments.

… In addition to retaining 75 percent of his chancellor’s salary for an indefinite period, Cheek will get four tickets to a Neyland Stadium skybox, four tickets to men’s basketball games; four tickets to women’s basketball games, and a parking permit for football and basketball games. He’ll also hold an adjunct faculty appointment in the UT Institute of Agriculture, and like other faculty members across the system, he’ll be expected to engage in community service.

(F)ormer UT system President Jan Simek also moved to a faculty position in 2011 under a contract that paid him a salary of $300,000 annually, or 75 percent of the $400,000 he earned as president.

He currently earns $340,956 as a professor and department head of the Department of Anthropology, about double the highest faculty salary in the department, which is $171,359. Simek teaches one undergraduate course, heads a graduate committee mentoring doctoral students, and supervises one graduate independent study.

UPDATE: DiPietro asked the UT board of trustees Friday to amend his contract so he would be paid at the high rate for only four years after stepping down as president, then revert to a standard professor’s salary, reports the News Sentinel. It’s unclear whether the trustees will go along with the idea, with Raja Jubran, vice chair of the board, declaring,  “What Joe is doing is the right thing from his perspective, not the fair thing. The fair thing is to go by the contract.”

GOP senators vote $450K in annual spending to bring conservative views to UT

A year after the legislature de-funded the Office for Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, a state Senate committee has voted Wednesday to create an “intellectual diversity” office instead, reports The Tennessean.

Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, recommended the office while the Senate Education Committee was reviewing the UT budget as proposed by Gov. Bill Haslam. Hensley proposed an amendment that would set aside $450,000 from the budget to fund the office on the Knoxville campus, a move some senators suggested would encourage more people with conservative views to speak their minds.

UT President Joe DiPietro, who had been fielding questions from the committee for more than an hour, seemed blindsided. But he urged the lawmakers to give university leaders a chance to consider other options.

“I have not seen your amendment. You’ve caught me flat-footed,” DiPietro told the lawmakers. “It’s not a good thing for you or for us to be in these circumstances with these kinds of amendments.”

The education committee unanimously approved Hensley’s change, sending the budget on for consideration in the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee. It was the latest provocative action from a panel that has repeatedly put UT administrators on the defensive by taking aim at day-to-day campus operations.

… According to Hensley’s amendment, $450,000 in recurring funds would be “earmarked” for the “intellectual diversity” office. That money would be used for staff and programming, “including holding a minimum of four events on campus, per academic year, that allow for the discussion and debate of societal and philosophical issues by presenters with differing views.”

Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, the chairwoman of the committee… said her office had fielded several complaints from UT students who felt pressured not to voice conservative views in class.

Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, praised the amendment, saying it would allow for professors and students with conservative views to speak more freely. Kelsey said that, in the current campus climate, “traditional American values (are) a black mark against you.”

In an interview after the meeting, DiPietro said he and his leadership team would need time to review the amendment to “figure out how we are able to or not able to comply.” He said that, while he took the lawmakers seriously, he didn’t think the amendment was the right way to accomplish their goals.

“I would prefer that they didn’t do that,” he said. “The people that should be making the decisions about programming should be the people that are closest to it.”

DiPietro in ‘State of the University’ speech: Diversity with ‘some tension’

NASHVILLE (AP) — University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro lauded his school’s commitment to diversity on Tuesday while acknowledging “some tension” as UT tries to be more inclusive.

“Campus environments that make all students feel welcome and valued are major factors in retention and graduation,” DiPietro said during the school’s second annual State of the University speech. “Because change has been involved in trying to fully create those kinds of environments at UT, there has been some tension.”

And while the school president acknowledged change can be difficult, he said students need to be prepared for diverse workplace environments.

DiPietro’s remarks, made in a speech in Nashville, come against the backdrop of conservative state lawmakers targeting UT in recent years over diversity initiatives on campus and an annual student-run “Sex Week.”

Last year state legislators passed a law that stripped nearly $446,000 from the school’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion and sent the money to minority engineering students instead. This came after the office infuriated some lawmakers when it recommended the use of gender-neutral pronouns on campus and advised against religious-themed parties or displays during the holidays.

Some lawmakers have their sights on UT again with a current proposal that aims to protect the free-speech rights of students with conservative views, something opponents say is already protected on campus.

Full story, HERE.


Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.

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