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UT-Martin Faculty Senate committee tables resolution condemning pair of education laws as racist

University of Tennessee

A University of Tennessee at Martin Faculty Senate committee voted earlier this week to table a resolution the school’s Student Government Association passed last month condemning a pair of Tennessee bills as racist.

Supporters of the resolution claim tabling it defends the “white supremacist” bills, while faculty leadership are urging patience as they continue to examine it.

People for Black History – a newly formed student organization on UT-Martin’s campus – brought the resolution before the school’s student government in late February, along with a petition collecting more than 1,200 signatures of support. It decried two bills passed in recent years – Senate Bill 623, passed in 2020, and Senate Bill 2290, passed in 2022 – that restrict what can be taught in Tennessee schools regarding subjects like critical race theory, an approach to teaching American history by examining the country's history of systemic racism.

The resolution passed the Student Government Association on a 16-4 vote and was then referred to the Faculty Senate Committee on Instruction, which voted to table the measure earlier this week.

The resolution’s advocates claim the decision not to let the resolution be heard is the university “taking a position” on the legislation in question.

“Our Faculty Senate leadership is defending Tennessee’s white supremacist ‘education’ laws,” People for Black History faculty advisor David Barber said in a release. “It is allowing these white supremacist laws to continue, unhindered and unquestioned.”

Mmachukwu Favour Osisioma, a freshman senator in UT-Martin’s Student Government Association, co-sponsored the resolution. She echoed Barber’s sentiments, saying that tabling the discussion is a sign of indifference.

“Discussion is a failure at this point,” she said. “We have been discussing this for decades … and it’s enough discussion. We’ve had discussion, and I would like action.”

Osisioma – who plans to help rally students to protest outside of Faculty Senate meetings until the resolution is given a hearing – is optimistic about the resolution's chances moving forward.

“I think it is going to pass eventually with a lot of discussion, but I do think, at this point, discussion is a failure,” she said.

UT-Martin senior David Mason authored a critique responding to the decision to table the resolution. He said the act of not advocating for a diverse education and allowing “white supremacist’ education laws to continue is in direct contradiction to the university’s mission statement, which says the school will “educate and engage responsible citizens to lead and serve in a diverse world.”

“Education itself should not be suppressed,” Mason said. “When you only teach one side of history to a group of individuals or to a student body, then that's the only part of history that that student body is knowledgeable on.”

Clinton Smith chairs the Educational Studies department at UT-Martin and also serves as the president of the Faculty Senate. Smith said the committee is continuing to examine the language in the resolution and weigh its potential impact. He also noted that the legislation prohibits any institution from creating any mandatory training for any subject listed as a divisive concept.

“The resolution states that academic freedom and free speech for both students and faculty will be infringed upon [by the state’s laws]. That is not the case,” Smith said in an emailed statement. “Academic freedom and free speech are still protected.”

Smith said tabling the resolution doesn’t indicate support of the laws and that that line of thinking sets up a false dichotomy.

“We are following parliamentary procedure in this case, not holding up or stifling the topic. Once the committee meets, they have several options,” Smith said. “They could pass the resolution, amend the resolution, prepare a different resolution or response, or decide not to move forward or not pass the resolution. If [passed by the committee], the item would then come to the full faculty senate for discussion and vote.”

Zacharie Lamb is a music major at Murray State University and is a Graves County native.
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