Faculty senate discusses recent anti-Semitic vandalism at the Rock, offers support to SGA

Monica Kast

 The faculty senate at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, discussed the recent anti-Semitic paintings on the Rock at their monthly meeting on Monday. The senate also asked the UT administration to reinstate a chief diversity officer before Jan. 1, 2019. 

Hand prints cover The Rock on UT's campus during a gathering on Friday, February 9, 2018, to speak out against recent racist messages painted on The Rock.

UT has seen two incidents of anti-Semitic paintings on the Rock within two weeks, including swastikas and the phrase "Stronger Than Hate" painted to read "Stronger Through Hate." In a second incident, "Kill Jews" was painted on the Rock.

Following the incidents, the UT Police Department increased security presence around the Rock

During a time of open discussion, multiple senators asked Interim Chancellor Wayne Davis why he did not take a stronger stance in his statement following the vandalism

Senators specifically asked Davis why he did not use language like "condemn" instead of "does not condone."

"I was told at a young age that there were only two people who can condemn and those were judges and God, so I have never condemned anyone," Davis said. 

Faculty Senate President Beauvais Lyons adds his hand print to The Rock on campus during a gathering on Friday, February 9, 2018, to speak out against recent racist messages painted on The Rock.

Davis apologized if he had offended anyone by not condemning the vandalism. 

"We certainly find it totally inappropriate," Davis said. 

The senate voted to table a resolution supporting SGA Bill 22-18, which calls for a spotlight and camera to be installed near the Rock.  The SGA bill asks for the footage from the camera to be live streamed, with the footage accessible to the public. 

Davis said they are in the process of or to install near the Rock. The senate could not come to an agreement about which areas of the bill to support, and tabled the vote.

However, the senate indicated their support of the Student Government Association's efforts in addressing the recent incidents on campus. 

Open letter from faculty and staff

Robert Blitt, a law professor at UT Knoxville, has written an open letter about the university's response to the vandalism, which has garnered nearly 400 signatures from faculty and staff. 

"We unequivocally condemn expressions of hatred that threaten or intimidate or bring into doubt the value of diversity and inclusivity on our campus and in our city," Blitt's letter reads. "And we express our strongest support for and solidarity with UTK’s Jewish students, faculty, and staff, and all members of our community who have been targeted by this and other similar attacks."

Interim Chancellor Wayne Davis, a first-generation college student, posed for a group photo on National First-Generation College Student Day on Nov. 8, 2018.

Blitt said he wanted to write the letter because he felt "the messages that are coming from the administration are not strong enough."

"I think there was a need to say something more clearly, less ambiguously," Blitt said. 

Blitt said he wanted to communicate to students that the faculty and staff are there to support students and are concerned by the recent vandalism on campus. 

"I'm really concerned about the place that I'm teaching at and I'm concerned about the safety, not just of Jewish students, but of all students," Blitt said. 

"We all deserve a campus where hatred finds no purchase or succor. A place that not only is safe, but feels safe. In this spirit of safety and inclusion, our doors are open to you and we stand together with you," the letter concludes. 

Chief diversity officer

The senate approved a resolution asking Davis and incoming System President Randy Boyd to "reinstate a full-time interm Chief Diversity Officer who is a member of the Chancellor's Cabinet."

The resolution asks that an interim chief diversity officer be appointed before Jan. 1, 2018, and that a national search be conducted to fill the position on a permanent basis. 

After the vote, Davis said it could be six months before the search to fill the position could be started. 

"I just want you to understand that if we’re able to do a search …we can’t do it at the same time as a search for a chancellor," Davis said, adding that it could be next fall before the search is started. 

Faculty senators participate in a vote during the November senate meeting on Nov. 19, 2018.

Other resolutions

The senate also approved a resolution advocating for UT Parking and Transit Services to provide temporary parking options for students, faculty and staff who are expectant mothers in their third trimester and new mothers. 

The resolution recommends that expectant mothers turn in a letter to Parking and Transportation Services prior to their third trimester in order to get the permit, which would give them access to a reserved spot in a permitted lot.

Nursing and new mothers would also have access to the reserved spots for a 12 week period after giving birth, with the option to renew for an additional 12 weeks. 

The resolution will go to Parking and Transit Services for consideration, Anderson said.