May 21, 2024

Boyd appointment raises diversity concerns

Protests by UT students prompt further discussion of diversity and inclusion in the university system

The Pride Center is located at 1616 Melrose Ave. //Photo by Taylor Owens

Tuesday, the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees officially appointed Knoxville businessman and former gubernatorial candidate Randy Boyd to serve as interim university system president effective Nov. 22. Boyd’s appointment resulted in protest from some students questioning his campaign rhetoric in regard to minorities.

University of Tennessee police removed two student protesters after they voiced objections to Boyd, as conversations about diversity and inclusion continue on campus.

Our campus has work to do to advance our strategic plan objectives,” Provost David Manderscheid said. “Enhancing the diversity of our students, faculty and staff and creating an inclusive campus environment are two of my top priorities as provost.”

“I have every reason to believe incoming Interim President Boyd will be supportive of our efforts.”

Boyd responded to opposition during media availability.

“I’m not sure what comment they may have misinterpreted during the campaign,” Boyd said. “But let me say this, that I believe that we need to continue to make sure that we have a very warm and welcoming culture at the University of Tennessee for people of all faiths, religions, genders, nationalities.”

Recently, the Princeton Review ranked Tennessee the third-most LGBTQ-Unfriendly campus. Students and faculty alike noted the national ranking.

“These students have to fight harder than most for their right just to be,” Faculty Senate President Misty Anderson said. “It’s a tremendous amount of pressure. Most other SEC schools (and indeed, most universities) have funded Pride or LGBTQ centers, while ours has been financed privately since the legislature intervened.”

In 2016, the Tennessee General Assembly voted to reallocate all funds originally maintaining the now defunct Office for Diversity and Inclusion to be used “solely for scholarships.”

The Pride Center’s future, unlike its SEC counterparts, remains uncertain as private donations are not a guarantee. With space for the Pride Center anticipated in the new phase of the Student Union and only one full-time staff member to oversee an active campus community, the center sits in a precarious situation if private donations do not continue.

UT Communications and Marketing is “not ready to discuss the second phase of the Student Union” until closer to completion. The Pride Center will eventually need to move into the new space, as Melrose Hall is set for demolition in the near future.

Students and faculty will look to Interim President Boyd and UT administration to protect and promote diversity initiatives. Recent administrative turnover installed first-year Provost Mandersheid in his position July 1, Interim Chancellor Davis on May 7 and Dean of Students Shea Kidd-Houze in January.

Current UT President Joe DiPietro announced his retirement Sept. 17.

With so many changes, students and faculty express concern for the future.

I think students are asking for someone to stand up for them,” Anderson said. “I hope the current leaders will find a way to do that. The faculty members I know and hear from want to see all their students thrive, and they know these folks are at risk.”

This story is ongoing.


Featured photo: TNJN archives

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