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Announcements » Rita Geier to Help Lead UT Diversity Efforts

Rita Geier to Help Lead UT Diversity Efforts

September 4, 2007

To: University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Community
From: Chancellor Loren Crabtree

I'm very pleased to announce today that Rita Sanders Geier, a civil rights pioneer who already has had a tremendous impact on higher education in Tennessee, has joined our administration at the University of Tennessee to help with diversity efforts.

Ms. Geier will serve as an associate to me and help implement goals of the university's diversity plan and Ready for the World, our international and intercultural awareness initiative.

She also will serve as senior fellow at the Howard H. Baker Jr.
Center for Public Policy.

You are likely familiar with Ms. Geier, but let me remind you of the far-reaching impact she's had on our state.

Ms. Geier was a 23-year-old faculty member at Tennessee State University in 1968 when she sued the state, challenging that Tennessee's higher education system was still segregated. Her lawsuit was prompted by the University of Tennessee's plans to expand in Nashville. She feared that UT-Nashville would become a four-year, predominantly white school with top-notch facilities while the historically black TSU would be neglected and under-funded.

The suit resulted in the 2001 Geier Consent Decree, which provided
$77 million in state funds over six years to diversify student populations and faculty of all state higher education institutions.

Since then, more than 1,300 black students have benefited from Geier-funded scholarships at UT Knoxville. Black enrollment on the Knoxville campus has grown from 6.4 percent in 2001 to 8.2 percent in 2006. About 9 percent of this year's freshmen are black.

The Geier Consent Decree was dismissed last year.

The end of the consent decree means we can no longer offer special scholarships based solely on race. It's challenged us to find innovative ways to define and maintain diversity on our campus.

New programs like the Pledge and Promise scholarships help open our doors to all students, including those who come from low-income families, those whose high schools typically don't send many students to UT and those who might be first-generation college students.

Ms. Geier will work closely with me and others on campus to advance Ready for the World and our diversity plan, efforts to make our to make the campus a welcoming, vibrant training ground where students gain the international and intercultural knowledge they need to succeed in today's world.

Ms. Geier has a law degree from Vanderbilt University, a master's degree from the University of Chicago and a bachelor's degree from Fisk University.

Prior to joining UT, she worked at the Social Security Administration in Washington, D.C., as executive counselor to the commissioner for special initiatives, serving as principal adviser on Medicare appeals, identity theft and other initiatives. She has had a long career in federal government as a trial attorney and administrator working with the Department of Justice and the Appalachian Regional Commission in Washington, D.C.

I am looking forward to working with Ms. Geier, and I think her willingness to join our team says a lot about the strength and progress of the university. I know you will enjoy getting to know her and working with her, as well. She has been and will continue to be both an inspiration and leader in our efforts to ensure access and success for our students.

Group photo
Chancellor Crabtree, Rita Geier, & Rep. Joe Armstrong pose following the announcement that Geier would join UT as a senior fellow at the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy