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Request to Chancellor and Provost to Speak Out Against “Divisive Concepts” Bills

Dear Chancellor Plowman and Provost Zomchick:

As we are sure you are aware, the Tennessee General Assembly is in the process of passing a law that will greatly impact our ability to teach courses, topics, and issues necessary to educate our students. We believe our students seek the rigor and challenge of courses from our R1, flagship, land-grant institution because our curriculum not only prepares them for successful careers, but also offers them an expanded understanding of the world in which they live. Bills like SB2290/HB2670 will have a severe chilling effect on what is taught and discussed in the classroom. The bill allows for students to report faculty, and for faculty to be terminated if found in violation. This bill is a direct attack on academic freedom, and its enactment would be a threat to tenure and would undermine the ideal of faculty as disciplinary and curricular experts. 

Additionally, the passage of these bills will negatively impact the University of Tennessee by hindering our ability to attract and retain excellent faculty, as well as our ability to recruit students who seek courses, training, and programs led by our faculty.

We write to you today in the hope that you are willing to use your voices as administrators of this university and as leaders in higher education to defend faculty and to preserve academic freedom and free speech in the classroom and on campus. 

Specifically, we ask you to publicly denounce SB2290/HB2670 and issue a strong and unambiguous defense of academic freedom and tenure. Moreover:

  • This is an opportunity to publicly support the institution’s mission in the face of direct attacks on our values and mission.
  • This is a signal to faculty, especially those who specialize in race, gender, and LGBTQ+ and other so-called divisive topics, that the institution supports them and their work.
  • This sends a signal to potential hires that the institution values academic freedom and will take actions to protect it.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

In support of academic freedom,

The Executive Committee of UTK-AA

Executive Committee 2021-2022

Mary McAlpin (MFLL, French), Chapter President, mmcalpin@utk.edu

Todd Freeberg (Psychology), Chapter Vice-President (& President-elect for AY 2022-23), tfreeber@utk.edu

Donna Braquet (Libraries), Communications Director, dbraquet@utk.edu â€‹

Laura Howes (English), Treasurer, lhowes@utk.edu

At-large members: 

Paul Gellert (Sociology), pgellert@utk.edu

Jon Shefner (Sociology), jshefner@utk.edu

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