I have thoughts. None of them are “What kind of jackass would do this?” because, obviously, Jim Summerville would. But mostly I’m curious to watch how this played out among Republicans.
Y’all know that I’ve long thought that a certain, rather large faction, seemed to have made no plans for how to actually lead, since they were busy trying to figure out how to both be on top and to frame themselves as underdogs rallying against their overwhelming enemies. And you know that I’ve long thought that there are some Republicans who seem to be disappointed that they are only the overwhelming victors and that they are not capable of punishing their enemies by completely and utterly ruining their lives.
And I think Summerville has often positioned himself in these two camps–both as the plain-spoken defender of what’s right against the forces of immorality and as someone who believes he should get to punish his enemies.
But it seems like that’s a fine line for a party to walk. The Republicans knew they had voters on their side to redistrict and to undo some (seemingly) unfair Democratic practices (I put seemingly in parentheses because I think they took the opportunity to both undo some unfair practices and to undo some that could just be spun as unfair. I think both of those things are to be expected.). They made some pretty radical changes to education. And even with all that, there is still a small, but really vocal minority that wants even more.
But the line the Republicans have to walk is that you can only tear down so much before you have to turn the corner and govern. If you can’t make that pivot, you’re going to lose your moneyed backers. And you’re going to lose moderate voters.
So, what’s interesting to me is watching Dolores Gresham show such self-assured leadership (no, that’s really not a sentence I ever thought I’d be typing). If there was any dithering, it happened so far behind the scenes I’ve caught no whiff of it. And it happened so quickly that it seemed like she heard about it, gave the situation some careful consideration, and then did what needed to be done.
People, that’s more than the Governor has managed to do in his first term. Let that sink in. Dolores Gresham has out-led the governor.
But, anyway, I’ve got my eye on this. Some Republicans are doing a good job of turning that corner (or at least looking like it). Others, obviously, not so much. It’s going to be an interesting session.
I note with chagrin that he’s an adjunct historian at Austin Peay. You’d think he’d know that when a student goes on to complete a class, the college registrar has to change the “I” to whatever grade was earned. One might legitimately object to the use of an incomplete as a de facto time extension, but most universities leave that up to the discretion of the individual faculty member who grants the “I”. I guess I’m missing how this became a matter for the Senate Ed committee to nose into.
Keeping in mind that I certainly don’t know all the gory details and, just like in divorce, I’m sure there are valid points on every side, this became a matter for the State Education Committee to nose into because a few faculty members at TSU either are in violation of FERPA or have skirted so close to violating FERPA that it’s pretty amazing. in fact, if I had to guess as to why they dragged the legislature into it, i would guess it’s because, when you’re going to reveal that an English professor at TSU (who was the one who complained to the legislature) knows what grades were handed out to whom in a Math class in order to make the school’s administration look bad for changing those grades, you have to make it seem like a big enough deal that your (seeming) violation of federal law looks like whistle-blowing and not like you were snooping around someplace you can’t legally be snooping.
Take a look at the books he’s written:
I think I am suffering news fatigue this week.
My bad. According to his bio site, he’s in the Languages and Lit department, though he does have an MA in history from my alma mater.
Wow. I assumed it was a disgruntled TA in the Math department that complained. It does make you wonder how an English prof got such specific and private information about individual students. Unless the prof just happens to be the academic adviser for all 270 of the affected students (which is the only reason that one gets that sort of transcript change info about particular students), I’m baffled at how such materials could have been obtained without a gross violation of FERPA.
What’s the implication? These kids got special aid in the form of extended time to master the materials because they were black? Because they were athletes? I think I’m not hearing the dogwhistle from way up here in NY.
Oh, no, Bridgett, I think he is an adjunct history professor, though.
No, so here to the best of my understanding is what’s going on. TSU is a mess. Has been for years. Though they have some amazing faculty, a great location, and a rich history. They’ve also been under a lot of scrutiny because of a federal order to desegregate (TSU was the “black” college when UT was the “white” college and a federal judge found it took them a little longer than was legal to rectify that once segregation became illegal. And by “a little longer” I mean TSU was still offering minority scholarships to white people when I moved here in ’99.
They have an interim president right now who has been tasked with getting a lot of administrative bullshit on campus straightened out. I think it’s fair to say that she’s not always approached this task with the greatest delicacy. Also, she’s been the interim president for two years and, as far as I know, there’s been no serious efforts to get a permanent president in place. My assumption is that her task is to get everything as straight as she can and let people hate her if they want, so that the new president can come in with a relatively clean slate.
Some faculty members, led by the English Professor Faculty Senate leader, loathe her and have been agitating since shortly after she arrived for her to be removed.
So, a math faculty member went to the English professor Faculty Senate leader and said “Look, all these kids had incompletes and now they have real grades and I know they didn’t do all the extra assignments.” (I don’t know if some of those kids were his kids, but I’m assuming some were or else how would he know that they hadn’t ever completed the assignments?)
The English professor seems to have decided this was her chance to publicly prove that her enemy was rigging students’ grades, possibly in order to get or keep federal money. (Did I mention that TSU was in danger of losing its accreditation over these kinds of administrative issues?) So she took this accusation of grade fixing to the legislature and seems to have found an ally in Summerville, who has never met a moral outrage he couldn’t make more outrageous.
But I don’t think the legislature was wrong to look into it. If someone comes as says “the leader of one of the state schools is involved in an enormous grade-fixing scam” you have to look into it.
The Black Caucus’s concern is–I believe–that the English professor is using the legislature’s racist assumption that the black leadership at TSU is, by definition, incompetent and probably corrupt in order to get them to either get rid of the president or at least publicly embarrass her. And the Black Caucus wants to remind their white colleagues that, whatever is going on at TSU, if anything, it needs to be investigated the same way similar accusations would be investigated at any other state school. And the explanations need to be met with the same credulity those explanations would be met with if they came from any other school administration.
Summerville, then (I think), rather than hearing their concerns about a kind of institutional racial bias against TSU, heard their concerns as accusing the white legislatures of being racist.
And thus his anger and thus him not giving a rat’s ass what the Black Caucus thinks.
Also keeping in mind that Summerville has a reputation for being a hot-headed grudge-holder.
Okay, I know some of the people involved in this personally, so I will be somewhat careful . . . caveat.
The most visible and active members of the faculty senate looked at Shields prior to her installation at TSU and had legitimate concerns about her being ready to do what she was to be tasked with. Her history did not suggest that she was. Candidates with a better track record would not come near the job if they were approached, and her competition for the job was thin gruel.
They sent an envoy of sorts to make nice when she came on. Last I’d heard before I left was that there was some hope she would be amenable to working with the “troublemakers” in the senate.
As far as the grade changes go, Shields waited until she got permission from the Board to change the grades to inform the instructors about the change. The faculty (and it wasn’t just the troublemakers) were right to be hacked off I would say. Also, it wasn’t one of the troublemakers that brought the matter to the legislator’s attention, it was a math professor.
However, it created that old strange bedfellows situation. The faculty senate troublemakers are suddenly aligned, it would appear, with the kind of legislators they are usually writing nasty letters to, as the legislature “investigates” the grade changing thing. So yeah, the troublemakers want something done, but not exactly what those legislators might do.
The troublemakers fear, not completely without reason, that people like Summerville have no good thought in mind when it comes to TSU. They think, I suppose, that Shields is just doing the bidding of the Board of Trustees, who they think would prefer to advance the interest of other schools at the expense of TSU.
The Black Caucus was doing a little due dilligence I think, wondering why it was necessary to have a public legislative hearing over what would normally be handled between the Board, the administration and the faculty.
On Bridgette’s question about the grade changes, the concern was, aside from ignoring the faculty members prior to making the change, that it was done only to keep those students in school so that TSU could retain the funding tied to those student’s matriculation. The TSU admins used the argument that the incompletes should never have been given because the work left undone was only for coursework outside the college level work (no remedial courses allowed in TN colleges anymore, so profs assign additional coursework for incoming students who would have been in remedial classes in past).
Brigitte, u should read up on Shields. Fun stuff. Also, she is Elanor Norton Holmes’ sister.
Thanks, Mark. That’s really helpful. It’s funny. I know a few people who go to TSU and a couple of people who teach there and, though I know it’s not a representative sample size, everyone seems to be in agreement that what happens in the classroom is really remarkable, but that everything that leads to getting in the classroom–from being able to register without it taking four days to getting forms signed and rooms assigned and knowing who’s actually in the class–is just a nightmare of stupidity.
It’s sad that you can have two-thirds of what you need for a good university in places–good students, good faculty–and if that last third doesn’t work, it really fucks shit up.
Your last sentence is the reality of contemporary higher education in a nutshell.
TSU’s problems make me think of Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.
Sen. Summerville is also the one who sponsored and passed legislation that authorizes college and university faculty members to teach in the public schools without a teaching license. Why? So that he, personally, can teach in the public schools without bothering to obtain a teaching license.
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