Jimmy Cheek talks diversity, sexual assault lawsuit

Chancellor Jimmy Cheek addressed students in an open forum on March 23 regarding issues such as diversity on campus, the recent sexual assault lawsuit against the university and privatization of services on campus.

//Photo by Ryan McGill

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On Wednesday, March 23, the Student Government Association hosted its annual Cheek Speak, an open forum with Chancellor Jimmy Cheek.

At the event, all students were encouraged to bring forth their campus issues and questions to discuss with the chancellor. Also present were Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration Chris Cimino, and Associate Vice Chancellor and Dean of Students Melissa Shivers.

The discussion began with an update on the recent bill to defund diversity and inclusion programs at UT. Cheek wanted to emphasize that while the bill is of great concern, it would not affect minority scholarships or other multicultural life organizations on campus.

“Our statement continues to be that diversity and inclusion remains very important on our campus, and you can’t do that without activities that aggressively pursue diverse students,” Cheek said.

Many students also voiced concerns about the new mandatory $300 meal plan, which was set in place to help fund the new Student Union. Cimino responded that while he understands the meal plan can cause financial strain for some students, the refund policy makes it reasonable and the requirement will not be revoked.

Cimino also addressed the ongoing closure of Tom Black Track, saying that the construction is currently on hold until the summer months and there is no reason why it can’t be open until the work resumes. He said he would look into making the track accessible for students for the several weeks.

The discussion then turned to the current lawsuits against UT regarding sexual assault and the allegations that the university is promoting a “sexual assault culture” among students. Cheek noted that UT does have a sexual assault problem, but also said that every other campus in the country has the same problem, calling it “a national issue.”

On this issue, Shivers referred to the new proposed student code of conduct, which would create a new board to hear all conduct cases and allow uniformity in the decision-making.

“The code of conduct changes would also allow for amnesty policies, where students who are in trouble, maybe who’ve had too much to drink, have the opportunity to make sure their peers stay safe without being penalized,” she said.

Shivers called on students to present their own ideas to the administration about what can be done differently to reduce sexual assault on campus and to increase options for survivors of sexual assault.

Finally, Cheek addressed Gov. Haslam’s recent efforts to privatize services on campus. Cheek said that this process remains in its early stages and that they are still verifying numbers and comparing costs and benefits.

“We outsource about 40 things on campus right now,” Cheek said. “We want to make sure we get the same service and the same control over services that we have.”

Cimino said that no decisions will be made on privatization until 2017.

Edited by Ben Webb

Featured image by Ryan McGill