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Letter on Students’ Free Speech

Joint Statement of AAUP@UTK and UTK Chapter of United Campus Workers | February 26, 2021

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK) chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the UTK Chapter of United Campus Workers (UCW) unequivocally support students’ right to free expression, including the right to protest peacefully. That right is the backbone of any education and any democracy worth the name. We therefore endorse the February 24, 2021 statement by the ETSU Student Government Association affirming the First Amendment rights of student athletes to kneel during the playing of the national anthem.

At the same time, we condemn the recent letter, sent by Republican state senators to our state’s public university presidents and chancellors, to urge campus leaders to “adopt policies within [their] respective athletic departments to prohibit” forms of protest the legislator-signatories deem “offensive and disrespectful.”

The intent of the letter was to chill student expression, and that is unacceptable. Moreover, considering the Tennessee legislature’s relative disinterest in condemning the violent mob action at the Capitol on January 6, 2021 or in removing the bust of KKK founder Nathan Bedford Forrest from the statehouse, and considering its relative eagerness to punish Black Lives Matter protesters, the AAUP @ UTK and the UTK chapter of UCW are also concerned that the “offense” legislators have taken at the ETSU students’ protest is misplaced.

When and if UTK students and athletes assert their First Amendment rights, we will stand with them as well.

UTK Chapter, American Association of University Professors

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