Two Tennessee state lawmakers are calling for the resignation of a chancellor at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, Jimmy Cheek, after a post on the university’s website encouraged employees to ensure that their holiday parties did not resemble a “Christmas party in disguise,” the Tennessean reported Friday. Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, and Senate Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell, R-Riceville, announced their position Thursday.
"This is offensive to the vast majority of Tennesseans who help fund this university through their tax dollars,” Bell said in an email, the Tennessean reported. “We have lost confidence in Chancellor Cheek’s ability to lead the state’s flagship university.”
The post, titled “Best Practices for Inclusive Holiday Celebrations in the Workplace,” was from the university’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion and provided suggestions for how to avoid promoting a specific type of religion or culture during a holiday party. Some of the tips included, “Holiday parties and celebrations should not play games with religious and cultural themes–for example, ‘Dreidel or ‘Secret Santa’” and, “If sending holiday cards to campus and community partners, send a non-denominational card or token of your gratitude.” The post did acknowledge that the university does not have an official policy regarding religious and cultural décor and celebrations in the workplace.
"We honor the celebration of Christmas. We also promote inclusivity of all cultures and religions." —Jimmy G. Cheek https://t.co/HkAsvkpvqT
— UT Knoxville (@UTKnoxville) December 3, 2015
"We are in no way trying to dismiss this very important Christian holiday," Cheek said in a statement, the Tennessean reported. "As a diverse campus, we do promote ways to be inclusive of all cultures and religions. I am disappointed that our efforts to be inclusive have been totally misconstrued."
The group reportedly received backlash earlier this year when it asked students to use gender-neutral pronouns, WBIR-TV reported. The university later clarified that the information was intended as a resource and that there was no official policy on the use of gender-neutral pronouns.
"It's the same line they used with gender neutral pronouns," said Bell, WBIR reported. "They said 'oh, you don't really have to follow these. They are just put out as suggestions,' but this is an official office of UT and this is an office funded by taxpayer dollars and to continue to put out foolishness like this is offensive to the vast majority of the taxpayers and citizens in the state of Tennessee."