university of tennessee

UT chancellor plans to bring back a director for LGBT Pride Center

University of Tennessee-Knoxville Chancellor Beverly Davenport is making plans to bring back a director for its LGBT pride center, reports the News Sentinel.

For the last year, the job has been unfilled after the Tennessee legislature decided to redirect funds from the school’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion and the part-time position was eliminated, forcing students to run the center on their own with some administrative oversight from the dean of students.

Student and faculty groups such as the Pride Center Working Group have for the last several months called for UT and Davenport to hire a pride center director and put in place other initiatives aimed at promoting and preserving diversity on campus.

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UT board raises tuition, DiPietro’s salary by a little bit (1.8 percent and $26K)

The University of Tennessee Board of Trustees approved Thursday a $2.3 billion budget for 2017-2018 that includes a 1.8 percent tuition increase for in-state undergraduate students and a $25,667 annual pay raise for UT President Joe DiPietro, reports the News Sentinel.

“This is the lowest (tuition) recommendation we’ve made in more than three decades,” DiPietro said during Thursday’s annual board meeting at the UT Institute of Agriculture. “We’re working hard to keep other fee increases low. I’m proud to be a national leader in efforts to hold down tuition increases in a time when stories of high student debt are making headlines.”

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UT gets diversity funding back; legislator waits to see if ‘they’ll clean up their act’

Amid considerable controversy, the Legislature last year diverted $445,882 of University of Tennessee-Knoxville funding from its Office for Diversity and Inclusion and into a minority engineering scholarships fund. But the legislative mandate expires June 30, meaning UT officials could again spend it on promoting racial and cultural diversity on campus.

From a News Sentinel review of the matter:

It’s one of the first major decisions new UT Chancellor Beverly Davenport will have to make on campus and one that state lawmakers, many of whom have voiced opposition to the diversity office in the past, will closely be watching.

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Sexual misconduct complaints up 68 percent last year at UT Knoxville

The University of Tennessee says reports of sexual misconduct at the Knoxville campus jumped 68 percent from 2015 to 2016, with 38 complaints reported in 2015 compared to 64 in 2016.

Further from the News Sentinel:

The 64 reports made by students in 2016 include 50 reports of sexual assault, three reports of sexual harassment, three reports of sexual exploitation and eight reports that were unclassified.

For the first time this year, the report also includes additional data on relationship violence and stalking, with a combined 39 reports made in 2016.

The data was released Wednesday as part of an annual report UT has prepared each year since 2015 detailing reports of sexual misconduct occurring both on and off campus and reported by students. 

Officials at UT said the rise in complaints this year reflects increased educational efforts and training around sexual misconduct, rather than a rise in violence on campus.  

“People are more aware not only of the policy but the process of how to report,” said Jenny Richter, Title IX coordinator for the University of Tennessee Knoxville and associate vice chancellor and director of the Office of Equity and Diversity. “More of our faculty and staff, when they receive these kinds of reports, know what to do. I think students, as they become more aware of the processes and procedures, are more comfortable figuring out what avenues they have to report.” 

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.