UT union leader says university layoffs were 'racist' because they impacted 'predominantly Black workforce'

A union leader and lecturer at the University of Tennessee claimed that the school’s president is “racist” for laying off 70 frontline employees.

The administration begs to differ.

A union leader at the University of Tennessee said President Anne Langendorfer’s recent decision to lay off frontline employees is “racist.”

University of Tennessee United Campus Workers President Anne Langendorfer, who also teaches in the school’s English department, accused university President Randy Boyd of racism after he laid off 70 frontline workers, many of whom are Black, at the school’s Health Sciences Center.

“What does it mean to be bold and impactful and embrace diversity? It doesn’t mean laying off 70 workers,” said Langendorfer, as reported by student newspaper UT Daily Beacon. “These layoffs are unnecessary while UT is financially thriving, while it’s being supported by federal stimulus packages.”

“This layoff is racist,” she continued, “This is a predominantly Black workforce in a majority Black city and it’s currently the only group of workers targeted for a layoff.”

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Boyd told Campus Reform that he trusts the school’s chancellors to “make decisions that are in the best interest of their campus,” though they may sometimes be “especially challenging, and at times quite heart-wrenching. 

“We are committed to treat those affected with the utmost empathy, compassion and respect,” he said, reiterating that the reduction in force affects 70 of the Health Sciences Center’s 3,290 employees.

“UTHSC is working hard to provide support services to employees who are affected, including job fairs, resume assistance and other counseling services,” he remarked. “Additionally, UTHSC has extended severance pay and benefits to the affected employees through June.”

[RELATED: UVA employees form anti-racism union]

 The Health Sciences Center communications team forwarded Campus Reform an email that explained the layoffs. According to the message, “staffing requirements have shifted in several operational units” — such as facilities and custodial service — “due to employees working remotely and students learning virtually.” The university invited displaced employees to apply for “several new positions being created in light of these changes.”

“Please know that this decision was not made lightly, and the university regrets that anyone be displaced as a result of this pandemic,” concluded the email, which expressed hope that “over time there may be a need to add back some of the positions to meet the demands of campus operation.”

Campus Reform reached out to Langendorfer and the United Campus Workers for comment; this article will be updated accordingly.

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