Two student organizations at the University of Tennessee at Martin (UTM) hosted a virtual forum on Oct. 5 in support of an African American History and Culture course requirement for all programs. The students expected the UTM Faculty Executive Committee would vote on the measure during the Oct. 6 meeting, but later learned the resolution had been removed from the agenda. The vote didn’t happen.
Dr. Sean Walker, Faculty Senate President, said he believes there was a miscommunication between his office and the advocating groups. A representative with the Black History Matters Coalition (BHMC) said she believes it’s indicative of the university’s unwillingness to prioritize Black history in education.
BHMC representatives had a meeting two weeks ago with the Faculty Senate Executive Committee (FSEC) during which FSEC reportedly advised the BHCM to shorten their proposed resolution before the Oct. 6 meeting. Hailey Willford, a member of the BHMC Steering Committee, said the resolution they created was too important to alter, so the group decided not to make recommended changes.
“We felt like it would take away from the resolution to delete anything, and we felt like everything on the resolution was important,” she said.
Willford said a representative of the BHMC emailed Walker on Oct. 4 to verify the measure was scheduled for a vote during the upcoming meeting. She said Walker replied saying that because a new draft had not been submitted, the measure had been removed from the agenda. She told WKMS they weren’t aware they needed to resubmit the original draft again in order for consideration.
“We were not notified that it would be taken off. We were not followed up with in any way until we emailed him,” Willford said.
She said now the BHMC is waiting for UTM faculty and administration to make the next move.
“We’re not UTM faculty and administration. So we feel like if this is something that the administration and faculty are passionate about and that they believe that ‘Black history matters,’ and that this is important to the university, then they’re gonna do the work to get this done,” Willford said.
“A lot of the Faculty Senate have said, ‘This is a really big idea,’ and we’ve said, ‘This is big, but racism is bigger,’” she added.
During an interview with WKMS, Walker verified the resolution was removed from the Oct. 6 agenda ahead of the meeting.
“I was asked by one of the faculty members with the Black History Matters Coalition, asked me to please pull it from that agenda with the request that it would be put on at a later date,” Walker said.
Walker said he is also required to follow procedures in order for a vote to take place.
“If there’s going to be a vote, I have to submit those one week before any meeting. So we got to that time and I hadn’t heard anything from them,” he explained. “Now I will admit, I did not directly reach out to them. That was not a reflection on this coalition or the subject matter of it. I just don't reach out to folks. I figure if they want it in there, they’ll contact me and so forth. I will admit in hindsight, I should have reached out just to clarify what was going on. I will admit there was that issue there.”
Walker believes there was miscommunication between the BHMC and the FSEC,
“That’s what it was, it wasn’t anything malicious or intentional, it was simply a miscommunication on what was going on. If you say you’re gonna revise something, I can't put the default on there.”
Walker said he reached out to a faculty member who is affiliated with Black History Matters Coalition to present the resolution during the Nov. meeting, but is concerned about presenting the resolution since President Trump expanded the ban on racial sensitivity training to federal contractors. He said he plans to speak with a legal representative about the new executive order before proceeding with the Black History Matters resolution.