We reported yesterday that one day after the University of Tennessee at Knoxville took away two-thirds of its funding for Sex Week, the UT Health Science Center in Memphis had kicked an AIDS conference scheduled for June out of its facilities. Now, the administration says, the latter action was a mistake.
In a formal statement, the university says, "The University of Tennessee Health Science Center's decision to deny use of the Student Alumni Center for the Tri-State African-American Community Summit was in error and based on a staff member's mistaken belief that policies and procedures on use of campus facilities were under revision. We welcome the opportunity to re-open a dialogue with representatives from the Community Summit."
We talked with UT System spokesperson Gina Stafford, who says, "Basically what we have ascertained is that an employee acted in error. ... It was a mistake to say our policies were under review. We have re-extended the invitation to talk to them."
As you may recall from yesterday, organizers of the conference had booked the UTHSC facilities last October. Last Thursday, they received communication that informed them "[t]he UT system which is governed by the President's Office on the Knoxville campus is undergoing revision of policy and procedure regarding usage of campus facilities," and the symposium would have to move. Stafford says neither UTHSC nor the UT System as a whole is undergoing any kind of revision in policy at all, especially not one spurred by the outcry against Sex Week. "At this point, whatever policies are in place [on each campus] on the use of facilities remain and haven't changed."
But when we called Dustin James, the executive director of the Mid-South AIDS Fund and one of the conference organizers, he says he's yet to hear a word from the university. "They have had no communication with us whatsoever. We've all been with our phones and accessible through e-mail all day, and we haven't heard anything from them," James says.
James says he's frustrated that UT has reached out to media organizations but not to any of the conference organizers, and he's concerned that their official statement was only issued to quell any bad press. He says he's willing to talk with UTHSC about reinstating the conference on campus, but he first wants to learn more. "We're concerned that they're trying to blame this on one employee," James says. "It worries us that one faculty member is possibly being used as a scapegoat for a larger issue."
So was booting the conference really an error? Or is UT just covering its ass? When we find out more, we'll let you know.