UT Martin Faculty Senate President Clarifies Comments Following Black History Resolution Controversy
The president of the University of Tennessee at Martin Faculty Senate is clarifying past comments following controversy and allegations over the removal of a resolution in a faculty senate meeting that would require students take a Black history and culture course.
Two student organizations at the university hosted a virtual forum on Oct. 5 in support of an African-American History and Culture course requirement for students. The student organizations expected a resolution supporting the course requirement to be voted on at an UT Martin Faculty Senate Executive Committee on Oct. 6, but the resolution wasn’t on the committee meeting’s agenda.
Faculty Senate President Sean Walker said in a previous interview with WKMS he was notified by a faculty senate executive committee member, who is affiliated with the Black History Matters Coalition advocating for the course requirement, to remove the resolution from the Oct. 6 meeting so it could be presented at a later date. The Black History Matters Coalition describes itself as students, faculty, and alumni calling for African-American History and Culture course requirement for students.
UT Martin Professor of History David Barber, affiliated with the coalition, said that he did not ask that the resolution be pulled from the agenda.
“They said they would send it back to me so I could share it with the committee members to help them work on rewording. To this day, I have not received any revisions from them. Because of this, the resolution was not included on the agenda.”
Barber said since the coalition decided not to revise the resolution, the coalition thought the original resolution would be presented but was unaware the resolution needed to be resubmitted to the committee Barber added Walker didn’t reach out to him or anyone else in the coalition about making sure the resolution would be presented in the committee’s November meeting. He said he emailed Walker on Oct. 6 to verify the resolution would be on the November agenda.
Walker in an interview Friday with WKMS said his past comments to WKMS regarding the removal of the resolution was referring to the September meeting, not the October meeting..
“That meeting on Sept. 1, I was asked by that faculty member to pull it from the agenda to be considered at a later date. I was referring to the September meeting, not the October meeting,” Walker said. “It’s my responsibility as Senate President to make sure what I say is clearly understood. I think it was clear as night yesterday.”
Walker said he emailed Barber to say he was concerned about President Trump’s recent executive order against “divisive concepts” in federally funded programs.
“I did express to the faculty member who is affiliated with this committee that I was concerned about the executive order, and that I would prefer not to include it until we got a clear interpretation of that executive order. The last thing I want to do is put it on the agenda again, or make them think that it's gonna be discussed, then it have to come off.”
Walker said all resolutions must be submitted by a faculty member seven days before a faculty senate meeting in order for there to be a vote on the resolution. Walker said the Black History Matters resolution was not submitted, and that he has spoken with a faculty member of Black History Matters Coalition to ask for an updated copy of the resolution to be presented during the November meeting.
“I did ask him to please send me the version that you want because I have the most recent one they sent me, but I just wanted to verify. So, that faculty member has been informed,” Walker said. “Now, the alums and students that are involved in this coalition may not have been informed that it was going to be included, but I have made the decision that it is going to be included because I was urged.”
Walker emphasized if a resolution isn’t submitted, then there won't be a vote.
He said he’s willing to work with any UT Martin student to make sure issues on campus are solved. He also apologized for the misunderstanding of his past comments and said he should have been clearer about his remarks.
“I truly mean it when I say I look forward to working with all skyhawks. This is an issue that is near and dear to my heart. I just want to see us moving the discussion forward,” Walker said.