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Civil Rights Pioneer Comes “Full Circle” With New UTenn Job


Rita Geier, whose 1968 lawsuit helped desegregate Tennessee’s public colleges and universities, is going to work for the University of Tennessee.

The university announced Tuesday that Geier will be getting a high-level post to promote racial diversity on UT’s 26,000-student main campus in Knoxville. She will be an associate to UT-Knoxville Chancellor Loren Crabtree and a senior fellow at UT’s new Howard Baker Center for Public Policy.

Geier, then a 23-year-old instructor at Tennessee State University, filed her lawsuit over UT’s plans to develop a Nashville campus. She feared UT-Nashville would become a predominantly White school and that historically Black Tennessee State would suffer.

In a 1984 settlement, the state agreed to provide millions of dollars to diversify public colleges and universities. UT-Knoxville said more than 1,300 Black students have benefited from Geier-funded scholarships since 2001, and Black enrollment has grown from 6.4 percent in 2001 to 8.2 percent in 2006.

Geier will help lead campus efforts to improve intercultural awareness.

“I have accepted the invitation to come to UT because this is an institution that is forward-thinking,” Geier said. “International and intercultural awareness are institutional imperatives, not options. I’m excited to be part of that level of commitment.”

“We are honored to have her join our administration,” UT-Knoxville Chancellor Loren Crabtree said in a statement.

Nashville attorney George Barrett, who filed Geier’s lawsuit that accused the state of operating a dual system of higher education for minorities, called UT’s decision to hire Geier “wonderful.”

“It is sort of full circle for Rita. We filed this case in 1968. Almost 40 years later, she is vindicated. More than vindicated,” Barrett said.

For more on Geier’s fight, read

– Associated Press

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