- The Washington Times - Monday, December 7, 2015

Republicans are calling for the chancellor of the University of Tennessee-Knoxville to resign following a post on the school’s website that encouraged employees to “ensure your holiday party is not a Christmas party in disguise.”

State Sens. Dolores Gresham and Mike Bell denounced Chancellor Jimmy Cheek in an email Thursday afternoon, shortly after Fox News aired a segment criticizing the university’s post, The Tennessean reported. The unofficial policy, posted by the university’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, gave tips on how to throw a diverse and inclusive holiday party that doesn’t favor any one religion.

“This is offensive to the vast majority of Tennesseans who help fund this university through their tax dollars,” Mr. Bell said in the email. “We have lost confidence in Chancellor Cheek’s ability to lead the state's flagship university.”

Republican lawmakers Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and state Rep. Sheila Butt have also taken to social media to voice criticism. Mr. Ramsey vowed to put UT under “increased scrutiny” during the upcoming legislative session, while Ms. Butt advocated for cutting UT’s diversity funding during the session, The Tennessean reported.

U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn also tweeted Friday: “Jimmy Cheek wants to take Christ out of Christmas bc it might offend. He needs to step up, shape up, or step down.”

Mr. Cheek explained in a statement last week that the university is “in no way trying to dismiss this very important Christian holiday.”

“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,” he said.

UT spokeswoman Karen Simsen also called the backlash “ridiculous,” The Tennessean reported.

“We celebrate Christmas on our campus along with many other holidays,” she said. “The suggestions are just that, suggestions for being inclusive and recognizing that not everyone worships in the same way or celebrates the same holiday.”

Students are expressing solidarity with Mr. Cheek by using the social media hashtag #StandwithCheek and circulating two petitions on Change.org.

“Students come to college to have an educational experience and engage in learning other peoples points of view both conservative and liberal,” the petitions state. “Although some in the legislature may not realize that UT is a place for all students, Chancellor Cheek and Vice-Chancellor [Rickey] Hall have made this a priority.”

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