more bad legislation for the university of tennessee

At the end of January I posted here about a legislative attempts to defund diversity staff and programming in the University of Tennessee system. Unfortunately, the attack on diversity is just one of a number of pending bills that are very bad for higher education in the state of Tennessee. Here are four more bills, including one  (HB2559) that will completely politicize the appointment of the Board of Trustees.


  1. SB2515 fixes tuition and fees at all UT campuses at their current rate until 2021. I know that many will see this as a welcome relief. But mind you, state support has collapsed in recent years. TN is still better than some, in that the legislature appropriates $474 million, or 23% of the $2 billion budget of the university (counting both restricted and unrestricted education and general funds). Looking at just unrestricted E&G revenues, totaling around $1.2 billion, state appropriations now constitute 38 percent of the budget. At the end of the last century, state appropriations accounted for 66 percent of unrestricted E&G revenues. So, while the state continues to reduce its appropriations in real dollars, legislators want to freeze tuition with no plan for making up the differences. 

2. HB1736 introduces the first stage of handgun carry on campus, permitting employees with handgun permits to carry on the job. If you’ve ever spent any time around faculty meetings, you’ll know why this is a bad idea.

3. SB1762 changes the language around the Board of Trustees hiring and firing of the President of the UT System, and of the campus chancellors. The new language states that the BOT shall hire a Chief Executive Officer of the system who shall also be the president, and that based on his/her recommendations, shall also hire Chief Executive Officers of the campuses. This shift in language will be consequential in empowering administrative authority. Nowhere else in the Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 49 is such explicitly business terminology used.

4. HB2559, worst of all, would reformulate the BOT. Currently the Governor appoints the BOT, as well as members specified from the faculty and the student body. This bill would give the head of the state Senate, the head of the House, and the Governor’s office each 5 seats to appoint on the Board. This will undoubtedly undo the fiduciary role of the BOT, and turn it into the worst kind of politically driven body. This will enable the undoing of the university. I would imagine that the Governor would veto a bill that takes away executive privilege. But, who knows if there would be enough votes to override.

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A Legislative Attack on Diversity at the University of Tennessee

The Office of Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville has been the center of a number of controversies this academic year. In September, it was forced to take down a guide to gender neutral pronouns under order by the system president, Joe DiPietro. This order came despite the fact that the Office of Diversity was handing down no mandate, only encouraging the campus community to consider how pronouns interact with gender identity. The backlash in conservative east Tennessee was quick, and harsh.

This controversy only primed the pump for another at the end of the Fall semester. Heading into holiday party season, the Office of Diversity posted a set of suggestions (just suggestions!) for how to have inclusive seasonal parties on our religiously- and ethnically-diverse campus. The burden of pluralism proved too much for Tennessee’s politicians, and a row arose with GOP opportunists going as far as to call for the resignation of Chancellor Jimmy Cheek and Vice Chancellor for Equity and Diversity Rickey Hall. The Chancellor came out relatively unscathed, though the same can’t be said for Vice Chancellor Hall. In response to this second controversy, Cheek office released a statement saying that Hall had been “counseled,” and that the website of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion had been placed under the editorial control of the Office of Communications. This indignity, in which a Vice Chancellor of the University has lost control of the campus voice on the very real and important issues under his authority is apparently not enough for some in the Tennessee General Assembly. In the midst of the controversy, state representative Micah Van Huss called for defunding diversity efforts in the UT system, and using that money to paint “In God We Trust” on all state and local law enforcement vehicles. That didn’t happen, but a new pair of bills introduced for this legislative session is taking what may well be a more pernicious approach.

SB 1902 (pdf) and HB 2066 were introduced in the past week by Senator Frank Nicely and Representative Martin Daniel respectively. Both of them serve the Knox County area, home to the main campus of the University of Tennessee. This bill seeks to do four things: 1. Restrict spending on diversity staff, administration, and programming at all University of Tennessee campuses to a total of $2.5M; 2. Implement onerous reporting requirements on all expenditures on staff, administration, and programming in support of “diversity, multiculturalism, and sustainability”; and, 3. Prevent all employees of the University system not hired explicitly for diversity work from engaging diversity programming during work hours; and  4. Restricting all diversity staff and administration to minority student and faculty recruitment, but not actual hiring processes. The Knoxville campus would be restricted to 60% of the $2.5M, or $1.5M, leaving a paltry $1m for the other campuses and entities (UT Chattanooga, UT Martin, the UT Space Institute, the UT Health Sciences Center, the Institute of Agriculture, and the Institute of Public Service).

To put this in explicit fiscal context, current the UT system spends more than $20M on diversity staff and programming on all campuses combined. Of that, some $16M goes towards scholarships for minority and first generation college students, while the rest is spent on federal and state reporting requirements, administration, and programming. Programming here includes all kinds of diversity-related intellectual and cultural content. If anything, this is way to little for a system with a total budget of around $1.3 billion.

I teach Latin American History at UT, and looking closely at the bill one could interpret the content of my courses, which are without question multicultural by the standards of the state of Tennessee, as violating Section I Part b.2:

An employee of the University of Tennessee system or one (1) of its institutions whose primary responsibilities and duties are in areas unrelated to diversity, multicultural, or sustainability programs shall not participate in diversity, multicultural, or sustainability programs during the times when the employee is to perform work duties.

This is astoundingly invasive into the daily operations and intellectual pursuits of the university, in part because it is so poorly and generally written. It also would appear to violate the bylaws of the Board of Trustees, which establish the financial, operational, and intellectual authorities in the system. As noted in Section I of the bylaws, by statutory authority the Board of Trustees,

which is the governing body of The University of Tennessee, shall have full and complete control over its organization and administration, also over its constituent parts and its financial affairs.

The authority over budgetary line items does not, in fact, reside with the Legislature. And, on curricular questions, which I would argue include diversity programming, the authority doesn’t even reside with the Board of Trustees but with the faculty. Section 2 Part A of the bylaws states that the Board shall,

Establish policies controlling the scope of the educational opportunities to be offered by the University and also policies determining its operation in general; however, the planning and development of curricula shall be the function of the faculties;

Finally on the bill itself, Section I Part D would put significant restrictions on diversity officials at all of the campuses, reducing their jobs to little more than an advisory role in recruitment:

Employees of the University of Tennessee system or one (1) of its institutions whose duties are related to diversity, multicultural, or sustainability programs, shall only work and have duties in areas related to:

(A) Nondiscrimination; (B) Recruitment of minority students; and (C) Recruitment of minority faculty or administrators.

(2) Although employees whose duties are related to diversity, multicultural, or sustainability programs may work on recruitment of minority faculty or administrators, they may not otherwise be involved in the hiring of faculty or administrators for the University of Tennessee system or any of its institutions.

It’s worth noting here that the University of Tennessee, Knoxville campus and the whole higher education system in the state of Tennessee has a long and troubled history with employment discrimination as documented by the Geier vs. State of Tennessee case, which was filed in 1968 and lasted something like 32 years, ending with a consent decree under which the State of Tennessee agreed to allocate $77M in state funds for diversity initiatives across Tennessee higher ed. Racial discrimination did not trigger this current backlash against diversity at UTK, but the net affect of this bill will set Tennessee higher ed back from the advances made in the wake of Geier. Furthermore, the backlash is rooted in a political intolerance of religious and sexual pluralism.

The very existence of bills like this which are a reaction to movements toward greater university inclusivity demonstrate the need for doubling down on our diversity efforts.


I say above that racial discrimination was not a trigger for this particular assault on diversity in the University of Tennessee system, but is undoubtedly still at the root of this proposal. A colleague pointed me to a 2013 report on Senator Niceley that I had totally forgotten. In November 2013, Niceley was a Featured Speaker at the Southern National Convention, an offshoot of the League of the South. Both of these groups are considered neo-confederate hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Quoting the announcement of his participation by the SNC:

[Niceley] will provide several proposals for legislation which Delegates can take back to their respective State legislatures. One of Senator Niceley’s proposals is to have the State legislature nominate US Senatorial candidates. This would change the electoral dynamics of the US Senate as the Senators would have to be more responsive to the States rather than that nebulous concept of “the people.”

Every attention will be given to ideas which promote the Sovereignty of the several Southern States.

That last bit is coded speech for secession, which the League of the South advocates and Niceley has gone on record in the Tennessean supporting.


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surly world troller build

I recently acquired, after Surly’s many, many delays, a Surly World Troller frame set. Finally getting the chance to build it up is very exciting, in part because of the anticipation I have of bikepacking trips to come.

To document the build, I’m going to start this post. It will be a work in progress. First up, the basics I’ve worked out so far.

Frame and Contact Points:  

  • Surly World Troller frame and fork, size M (18″) in Milque Toast White
  • Seatpost: Ritchey aluminum
  • Saddle: Brooks B17
  • Stem: Ritchey WCS OS, 100mm
  • Bars: Jones Loop Bar
  • Grips:
  • Pedals: Performance Bike 10-pin Platform

Drivetrain and Brakes:  

  • Crankset: Shimano Deore 2×10 (40-28T)
  • Front Mech: Shimano XT
  • Rear Mech: Shimano XT
  • Chain: SRAM 10-speed
  • Cassette: Shimano XT 11-36T
  • Shifters: Microshift Thumb
  • Levers: Avid Speed 7
  • Brakest: Avid BB7 MTB mechanical discs, 160mm rotors


  • Rear: Shimano XT hub, 36-hole, Velocity Cliffhanger rim
  • Front regular: Shimano Deore hub, 32-hole, Sun-Ringle Rhynolite rim
  • Front dyno: SP PD8 disc dyno hub, 36-hole, Velocity Cliffhanger rim
  • Tires: Vitorria GEAX Saguaro 26×2.2


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the university of iowa board of regents’ contempt

The Board of Regents of the University of Iowa has hired a new president. The process appears to have been less than transparent, and resulted in the one wholly unqualified candidate in the field emerging victorious. This has resulted in the faculty at UI taking a vote of no confidence in the Board. It’s little more than a symbolic gesture in the University of Tomorrowland, where notions of shared governance and the critical educational mission of the university no longer exist.

The President of the Board of Regents released this statement in response to the faculty’s vote. Interestingly, I found the original version that the BoR wrote before sending it through the PR washing machine, which I reproduce for you here in full.


Contact: Josh Lameman


Statement from Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter on University of Iowa Faculty Senate Vote of No Confidence

We are changing landscape of higher education so as to make the current ways of operating unsustainable. The Board of Regents brought three highly qualified candidates and one ringer to campus during the search process and humored them by feigning a discussion their abilities to help lead the University of Iowa through the changes that we are foisting upon higher education.

Throughout this process, Board members heard repeatedly from non-university monied and political interests from a small segment Iowan society about the type of ‘university’ they want, and the ways they can use it to transfer public goods into private hands.

After listening to the governor, his friends, and many other non-academic interests, as well as having frank conversations with each of the candidates about their willingness to implement our transformative vision of higher ed disruption, the Board unanimously thought Bruce Harreld’s experience running a fast food chicken chain twenty years ago, and his vision and willingness to disregard faculty and staff still involved in actual teaching and research, would ultimately provide the destructive disruption we know they need.

We are pissed that faculty have decided to their follow their commitment to maintaining the public good that the University of Iowa has long been over opportunities to endorse their own dismantling, as well as the end of that institution they love, and to focus their efforts on stopping us instead of accepting our unquestionable authority to fuck them over like a pig on a one way trip to Sioux City.

So there you have it.  I’d say it’s a good thing they have editors working hard to soften the edges of Board of Regents’ press releases.

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a gitit front end for multiple research repositories

I switched a long time ago now to keeping all of my research, course notes, general reading notes, brainstorming notes, etc. in plain text files. I write them using the pandoc variant of markdown. And, I use Mercurial or Git to keep the repositories synced to Bitbucket. These are private repositories, but following on Caleb McDaniel’s open history experiement, I’ve been experimenting with using Gitit locally as a front end for one of my projects. It is based on pandoc, and essentially provides a wiki interface to a set of text files that are written in pandoc.

The most recent release of Gitit allows users to specify the default filetype of pages to be converted in the wiki. Originally, this was set to .page. This was fine for a new project, but I had tons of older repositories with lots of .txt files I didn’t want to change. So, I was excited to get the ability to specify the file type, which means I can use the front end on pre-existing projects filled with many folders and files.

What is more, I can use Gitit’s configuration file to simply spin up a wiki on any of my repos whenever I need or want the kind of search and display features that a wiki provides. I now have a folder named projects that includes all of my various research, teaching, and brainstorming repositories. Each of those repositories is source controlled with Git of Mercurial, and synced using source control to a repo on bitbucket:


and so forth.

In the conf folder, I have all the files needed for Gitit, including configuration files for each of the repos:


Using the configuration files, I can point Gitit to one set of static files and templates, one log file, and the appropriate repository of files for whatever I’m looking for. To do that, I change the default configuration file to search for the project folder, instead of the default wikidata folder Gitit usually uses. Then, at any point when I need to search for things have a different front end that the terminal window, I’ll spin up a wiki from the Projects folder with this command:

gitit -f conf/repoName.conf

I like this very much, because I’m not tied to Gitit’s default folder or filetype structure, I can work in my repositories the way I’m accustomed to, and still get the benefit of a wiki whenever I want it. Easy to do. Works like a charm.

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the meaning of de-tenure is typo

The University of Tennessee System has retracted the term “de-tenure” from the press release describing President DiPietro’s plan for cost cutting and revenue enhancement. The amended press release now begins with the following:

NOTE: A correction has been made to this press release regarding the review of the University’s tenure and post-tenure review process by deleting the inadvertent and incorrect reference to “de-tenure” under the sixth bullet of the president’s action plan noted below.

The new language in the sixth bullet point is:

Tenure and post-tenure review process: The UT System Administration, with involvement by the Faculty Council, will conduct a comprehensive review of the University’s established tenure and post-tenure review process.

While I think this retraction is a small victory, it strains credulity that a press release describing the plan presented to, and approved by the Board of Trustees would include such a toxic and alarming term as “de-tenure” by mistake. As a typo. I believe that the individuals who wrote, read, and approved the original language for release were transcribing the intent of the proposal to review P&T procedures at UT.

The System has had a procedure for post-tenure review, and even removal, since 2003. Cumulative Performance Review (CPR) is currently triggered after two consecutive years in the preceding five of an overall rating of 1 on a scale of 1-5 in the Annual Review process. Or, CPR can be triggered with three years in the preceding five of a combination rating of 1s or 2s. This is followed by a process of review by a specially-appointed committee of a faculty member’s performance.

Chancellor Cheek and DiPietro describe this process as ponderous or confusing or some such, and say that it is in need of change. And, this is brought up in the context of a plan for cost cutting. I see de-tenuring and firing-with-tenure as a distinction without a difference.

The larger context for the connection between the budget and seeking a path to dismissing tenured professors is Tennessee’s turn towards “Outcome Based Budgeting” which ties remittances to the University by the state to performance measures. This kind of fiscal discipline really has no place in public universities, who exist as a service to the citizens of the state. I can say with full confidence that the University of Tennessee Knoxville is more productive than it’s ever been by all kinds of rational measures. Our faculty are much more productive in research than in generations past. We graduate more students as a university, and have bigger incoming classes than ever before. We do so with demonstrably fewer resources. In fact, the College of Arts and Sciences would need close to 40 lines to get us back to the same level of FTE positions as we had in the mid-1990s. Additionally, quality education is an inherently inefficient process by the measures of capital. We give our most advanced and valued students (grad students) courses in a format that is most efficient at teaching them the values, methods, and content of historical practice. We do that in small seminars, not because they measure well on institutional efficiency, but because the seminar room in the most efficient means of teaching deep thinking, research, analysis, and the like.

This talk of productivity shows that the failed business model under operation here is the model of treating university education like a business. Neither Cheek nor DiPietro agree.

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On the meaning of de-tenure

Update: UT changes the press release I quote below to remove the word de-tenure.

President Joe DiPietro and the UT Board of Trustees voted yesterday to make the tenure process, tenured compensation, and de-tenuring a key element of its plan to cut costs and expand revenues in the wake of reduced state support for higher education.

The Board of Trustees held its winter meeting on February 25-26 in Memphis. In recent meetings, the System President DiPietro has been talking up plans to deal with the University’s “failed business model.” This model, according to DiPietro, is based on replacing state dollars with tuition dollars. I’ll start off here by saying that that is not a “business model,” but rather a response to a “political problem.” The governor and state legislature, over the course of the last 10 years, have failed to fully fund the state’s own formula that determines its contributions to the university system.

At the June meeting, DiPietro forecast a $155M shortfall over the next ten years due to falling state contributions to the system. That forecast shortfall at the winter meeting has grown to $377M, a convenience in the context of the President’s presentation of a plan to cut costs and increase revenues. For most of the last year, I believed that DiPietro was playing a shame game with the legislature and governor (whose family name adorns myriad buildings and programs at UTK), prodding them to fully fund the state’s own formula.

Until today.

The plan DiPietro presented, and that the Board approved, centers on six points to address tuition shortfalls, forecasted salary gaps, and decaying infrastructure in the system:

  1. Program realignment and consolidation: campuses will address low-performing programs to fund program reinvestment and perform a feasibility analysis and develop a plan for program consolidations to save costs.
  2. Allocation and reallocation plans: set aside 3 percent of base year’s total unrestricted E&G expenditures to address strategic initiatives, address deferred maintenance and identify cost savings from voluntary retirement and other workforce development options.
  3. Unfunded mandates for tuition waivers and discounts: the UT System Administration will study these discounts, estimated to be $7.4 million annually System-wide.
  4. Tuition structure review: Options include expanding differential tuition, increase enrollment of out-of-state students and the 15-4 tuition plan.
  5. Non-formula fee structure: Non-formula units (Health Science Center, Institute for Public Service and Institute of Agriculture) will review whether outreach efforts are capturing actual cost of delivery and determine whether fees should be charged.
  6. Tenure and post-tenure review process: To be conducted by UT System Administration and with involvement by the Faculty Council, to look at awarding of tenure, post-tenure compensation and enacting of a de-tenure process.

The first five points read like standard responses to fiscal cuts– realignment and consolidation of programs (read, cutting departments?), fee structures (raising student costs without raising “tuition”), moving money around, etc. The last one caught my attention.

What in the world is a “de-tenure process”, and what place does tenure, a bulwark of academic freedom and security for the risks of academic training and employment, have in a conversation on cutting costs and increasing revenues?

To understand more, I watched DiPietro’s presentation of the plan to the Board of Trustees. The President noted to the board that from now on, in response to this manufactured economic crisis, all actions by the System must either cut costs or increase revenue. Here is a transcription of DiPietro’s comments on point six, which begin at 24:01 in the linked video:

The last item on the list which will be led by the System is to take a look at tenure and post-tenure review process and it will be conducted by us at the System level. This will be a review and make recommendations on needed revisions regarding post-tenure review. I would like it to include adjustments for compensation for high performers in that post-review time frame and also to look at policy for termination based on unsatisfactory performance. I will do this in concert with the Faculty Council and a group of people. We will keep them tuned in. But the reality is the post-tenure review processes that we currently have from the standpoint of the CPR program is not very effective.

So, here we have it. In a move that I don’t know any faculty were forewarned of, DiPietro has opened the door for the Board of Trustees to undo the protections of tenure at the University of Tennessee.

I tweeted that transcription, which immediately elicited a harsh response from the academics I know over there because they see it for what it is… a blatant attack on tenure in the name of cutting costs. DiPietro responded to @historianess on twitter, who called “de-tenure process” what it plainly is, an attack on tenure, with this:

@historianess I fully believe in the concept of tenure.
2/27/15, 5:55 PM

I’ve asked him to clarify how that is, on twitter, but you know, he hasn’t answered yet:

@utpresidentjoe @historianess Could you explain, then, how a tenure and a de-tenure process has any place in a convo on cost-cutting?
2/27/15, 5:59 PM

This is in direct conflict with the Knoxville campus’s push towards being a  Top 25 public university, our current campaign to improve UTK. It’s in direct conflict with many of the most cherished values of the academy and higher education. And, I’d love to provide DiPietro’s explanation for how his belief in the concept of tenure squares with having a “de-tenure process” that is not connected to disciplinary issues. If he provides one, I will post it immediately here, or provide a forum for him to do so directly. I’d really like to know, in the context of budget discussions, what the meaning of “de-tenure” actually is.

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Deducir ante el Juez la accion ú derecho que se tiene, ó las excepciones que excluyen la accion contrária.

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Chad Black

I, your humble contributor, am Chad Black. You can also find me on the web here.