University of Memphis cancels grant for social justice program

The University of Memphis canceled a recent grant for its social justice program, formed in August 2020, after Governor Bill Lee expressed concerns about the latest initiative, according to a statement from the governor’s office.

The program has 14 groups focused on improving educational outcomes for students of color, retain the faculty of color and improving pay equity, as well as contracting with minority businesses and creating diversified, equitable and inclusive courses.

The state of all programming is unclear. University of Memphis officials did not respond to requests for information on Wednesday afternoon.

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The latest initiative provided 15-20 faculty with a grant of $ 3,000 to “support faculty interested in redesigning and aligning existing course programs with the goals established by the course-based program task force.” .

If no further funding is required from the initiative, this would represent a total expenditure of $ 45,000 to $ 60,000. The U of M receives approximately $ 123 million in state credits, according to recent budget documents.

In a statement, Lee criticized the program as using “taxpayer money” to fuel a “radical divisive agenda.”

It was not immediately clear whether the governor had had any correspondence with the U of M about its programming since its launch in August 2020. The university, like many public universities and other private universities that accept funded students by the federal government. Pell Grants, emphasizes diversity, equity and inclusion. The U of M increased attention after students and faculty spoke out over the country’s racial reckoning sparked by the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Blacks killed by the police.

University of Memphis footballer Obinna Eze speaks on Friday, September 11, 2020, during an unity march at the University of Memphis.

“We welcome a vigorous debate on college campuses, but taxpayer dollars should never be used to fuel a radical divisive agenda,” Lee said in a statement to The Commercial Appeal, echoing the sentiments expressed. by students at Fox News. Lee’s statement was first reported by the Tennessee Star.

“The University of Memphis has informed my office that the initiative will not move forward,” the statement continued from Lee. “Completing this program was the right decision, and I thank the university for hearing our concerns.”

The governor’s office did not provide correspondence between Lee and the U of M and did not respond when asked how the initiative was part of a “radical divisive agenda.”

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee at a press conference in Memphis at Hanley Elementary School on Friday, April 23, 2021.

In response to follow-up inquiries asking what Lee’s concerns were about the U of M program, what he had been told was rescinded and whether he believed academic freedom should be protected at universities of Tennessee, Governor’s Office spokesperson Casey Black said U of M “has informed our office that the grants program is no longer active. We have nothing more to add regarding a program now disappeared. “

News of the U of M program spread after it was reported earlier this year by conservative national media Washington Free Beacon and Fox news. In the reports, an anonymous professor and three students criticized the program.

the the students have identified themselves as part of the local chapter of Turning Point USA, a national group of conservative college students that publicly supports disinformation campaigns on COVID-19[female[feminine and the Election 2020.

The Turning Point USA organization bused 50 people to the Jan.6 uprising on the United States Capitol, including a retired Pennsylvania firefighter who was accused of assaulting Capitol Hill police officers, according to a court record reported by Business intern.

“It just proves that the top priority of the University of Memphis is not academics, but rather indoctrination of students with propaganda,” Audra Lutrell told Fox News, who identified her as a student. of the University of M with the student organization. “And if professors are bribed with taxpayer dollars to rethink their curriculum to focus on anti-racism or diversity and inclusion, these professors, that doesn’t wake them up, that doesn’t hurt. ‘them social justice warriors, they’re bribed to do that. “

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The events of the Arizona-based group founded by conservative commentator Charlie Kirk delivered “messages (which) were at times alarmist and patriotic, under the guise of an urgent need to save America from the Biden administration and more. broadly, what they saw as a liberal agenda to destroy the Constitution of the United States, ”according to the Arizona Republic.

Kirk focused on young adults and higher education, creating a platform to point out teachers who “advance leftist propaganda,” Republic reported, and continued to focus on schools and universities. Kindergarten to Grade 12 school boards.

National coverage of U of M programming appeared to confuse the initiative with a trend of Republican-led legislation in Tennessee and across the country that prohibits the teaching of certain race-related concepts in K schools. -12.

Labeled in many cases as a ban on teaching Critical Race Theory, Tennessee’s law impacts K-12 schools, not universities. Critical Race Theory is not taught in K-12 schools and is offered as part of some higher education courses, where universities, both public and private, generally value and seek academic freedom.

The three finalists for the new U of M president were all interviewed by the faculty representative on the university’s board of trustees on academic freedom.

Although Tennessee law does not specify Critical Race Theory as a prohibited subject, academic theory has been politically manipulated as a term synonymous with any subject on race or racism. Academic theory is not analogous to all diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, commonly referred to by the acronym DCI across institutions.

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University of Memphis President David Rudd speaks at the opening ceremony for the Larry Finch Plaza, a tribute to Memphis basketball legend at the Laurie-Walton Family Basketball Center on Thursday, October 28 2021.

The U of M, a predominantly black university in Shelby County, has a student population roughly evenly split between non-white and white students: 34% of students are black, 7% are Hispanic, 4.5% are Asian, 3.4% multiracial and 45% white, according to recent registration data. The current president, Mr. David Rudd, has repeatedly stated that the university’s mission emphasizes access, one of the reasons he regularly gives when announcing the tuition fees of the university. ‘U of M.

Fox News suggested that students are “paying for this” initiative with an increase in tuition fees.

Student tuition fees have quadrupled in eight years, with the most recent increase of 1.75% done to offset an elimination of online course fees that Rudd said was preventing U of M from attracting and retaining students.

In an interview on the accomplishments of his tenure, Rudd emphasized reducing disparities in academic success for black men at U de M. Locally, community members criticized the university’s commitment to inclusion, a main point in the recent presidential research which produced the new president Bill Hardgrave, dean of Auburn University who will lead research university later in 2022.

Laura Testino covers education and children’s issues for the business appeal. Contact her at [email protected] or 901-512-3763. Find her on Twitter: @LDTestino