Open Letter of Thanks to Jim Byford

By Larry Holder
Submitted to The Weakley County Press on September 9, 2005.

Dear Editor,

As a point of historical fact, it was 5 years ago this month that Jim Byford made a courageous stand that significantly altered the course of our university for the better. I wanted to take a moment to once again say "thank you" to one who has given heart and soul to UT Martin, and continues to exemplify all that makes this campus a great place to learn, teach, and work.

For those among us that do not know (especially since most or all of the students from that time have graduated), we were previously under the very problematic leadership of Chancellor Philip Conn and Vice-Chancellor Christopher Chalokwu, which Byford described as being "uncooperative" and "reprehensible". During the tenure of Conn and Chalokwu, every dean (except Byford) left the university, along with 25% of other faculty.

In response to the situation, Dr. Byford put his job on the line, calling for the resignations of Conn and Chalokwu in an open letter sent on Wednesday, September 6, 2000. This was followed by a rally in the quadrangle in front of the Administration Building on Friday, September 8, 2000, attended by numerous faculty, students, and the media. While Conn and Chalokwu initially insisted that they did not plan on resigning, little more than a week later, Conn was "reassigned" to a position at Knoxville on Monday, September 18, 2000. Chalokwu's exit followed likewise.

We came close to losing the heart and soul of UT Martin, under the tactics of those who would lead by fear and lack of understanding of what this campus is really all about. Today, we can all too easily take for granted the excellent leadership of our current administration, with Dr. Nick Dunagan (a UT Martin alumnus himself) at the helm, and Dr. Tom Rakes as Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs. In a day and age when true heros are few and far between, we can look to one of our own who stood up against an oppressive administration and saved the day. To you, Jim Byford, we once again say "thank you".

Larry Holder
UTM class of 1981
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