The last week has been a challenging one for the UTC community. We’ve seen students passionately expressing different views on difficult topics. Our campus was thrust into the national spotlight. And we’ve all learned a great deal along the way.
In the face of dialogue and free speech, it is also important that we continue to stand firm in our belief as an institution that diversity and inclusion ARE the path to excellence. Our campus is enriched by the many different communities that each contribute something different and unique.
UTC is a place where ideas should be debated and discussed. This includes ideas some may find uncomfortable and offensive. The manner in which recent events played out, in many ways, mirrored the modern political landscape in this election year. The conversations taking place among our students haven’t been easy ones. They have addressed constitutional rights, tolerance and inclusiveness, and conflicting ideologies. Now it’s time to move forward – together.
Last week I received a thoughtful letter from a group of concerned students urging UTC to enforce its existing sidewalk chalking policy. This was challenging because we had never had to enforce the policy in the past. The chalking approval process had traditionally been adhered to by campus organizations, and individuals rarely took it upon themselves to chalk messages. I agree that we have policies for a reason, and they need to be enforced. However, enforcing a policy for the first time – in the midst of a crisis – has the potential to make matters much worse. That’s why I decided it was best to use the incident as an opportunity to review and update our policy.
This week I invited those who wrote the letter – and a number of other students – to join me for a review and discussion of the sidewalk chalking policy. It was an honest and thoughtful conversation that will result in a policy that is easier for everyone to understand. Details will be communicated across our campus so all students, faculty and staff are fully aware of the policy and how it will be applied in the future.
Tonight, another important step forward will be taken as we host an open forum we’re calling “Honest Conversations: Free Speech and Competing Ideas.” Dr. Michelle Deardorff, who heads UTC’s Department of Political Science, will guide a campus conversation on the concept of free speech and how we can productively debate and work with those whom we may disagree with. This is more than just a first amendment discussion; it’s also a conversation about tolerance, understanding and respect for those with differing opinions. While the outside world has focused attention on the issue of freedom of speech, I recognize that the recent incident also raised issues related to inclusion and diversity on our campus. Tonight’s event will address some of the issues, but I am sincerely committed to continuing the campus dialogue with a series of diversity-focused open forums which will begin next semester. I encourage you to join us at 6 p.m. in Derthick Auditorium, Room 101.
As the year winds down, we are deep into planning for the start of the fall semester. The renovation of Holt Hall will take several existing classrooms off-line beginning this summer. Course scheduling and classroom assignments will be challenging. Beginning July 1st, 2016, we will be using new software to help us make the best possible decisions for scheduling classes and assigning classrooms. The goal is to ensure we offer the courses students need in an appropriate classroom and at the best time. We want to keep students on track to graduate on time. This will mean some faculty will teach in buildings they have not taught in previously.
Earlier this month, we recognized the outstanding achievements of our faculty. The Annual Faculty Awards Dinner took place on April 5th. We recognized our retiring faculty for their service and dedication to our students and gave many other awards to highly-deserving individuals who are the heart and soul of UTC. I encourage you to check out the entire list of winners and to congratulate them personally for the honors they have received.
Also on the awards front, several of our students were winners in the Tennessee Associated Press 2016 Broadcasters and Media Editors’ annual college media competition. Harrison White won first place in the Best TV News category for his story “Ann Coulter at UTC.” The Mocs News Team took home first place in the Best Specialized/Topic Reporting category for their story “ASCE Competition Comes to UTC.” And Justin Li won first place in the Best Videographer category for a compilation of his best work. Congratulations to you all. Keep up the great work!